Kevin Kaminski's New Path
Hockey Homecoming: Former Saskatoon Blade/NHLer Kevin Kaminski happy to return to Saskatchewan, ready to lead SJHL's La Ronge Ice Wolves
(Photo of Kevin Kaminski taken by Mark Mauno)
Kevin (Killer) Kaminski once planted his smiling face into an alligator’s gaping mouth.
These days, the fearless former Saskatoon Blade and NHLer will attempt to pull the struggling La Ronge Ice Wolves out from the clenching jaws of despair.
Kind of the same thing, right?
“Oh, gosh,” the Churchbridge, Sask., native admits. “Probably the record for the Ice Wolves is scarier.”
Indeed, the past three seasons have not been kind to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Ice Wolves as a 28-136-2-8 record would attest, but Kaminski is determined to turn things around.
Kaminski wants to change the hockey culture, first and foremost. That officially began this past weekend in Saskatoon where he got a glimpse of the future at the Wolves’ spring camp. There, he was joined by another former Blade, Gaelan Patterson, who has been promoted as the Wolves’ associate coach and general manager.
“I tell you what, I thought camp was excellent,” said Kaminski, 50. “Patty did an awesome job there with 84 kids there. I made a statement Friday that the culture has to change with the work ethic, care factor; just the passion and heart has to change. I thought the first day was good, but the second day was absolutely fantastic. Everyone brought the intensity. It was hard-hitting. There were some nice plays, good saves, good speed. A couple of good tilts. We saw a little bit of everything. Guys pushed hard and wanted an invite to main camp.
“It was a step in the right direction and it was refreshing to see that quality of camp.”
One of those aforementioned tilts was between 2018 SJHL Bantam Draft picks Adam McNutt of Saskatoon and Cash Arntsen of Swift Current.
“The game has changed, but that’s still part of it,” offered Kaminski, a feisty player in his day who thought the two youngsters showed they were battling for spots in the team’s fall camp.
“I thought both kids did a hell of a job.”
Kaminski first worked as an assistant in the American Hockey League under Mike Babcock before taking over teams as head coach in the West Coast Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League, United Hockey League, Central Hockey League, Southern Professional Hockey League, United States Professional Hockey League, North American Hockey League and Western States Hockey League in California, Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Even though he has been employed in the United States for the past three decades, Kaminski has maintained close ties with friends and family in Saskatchewan.
“I’m excited to be back in Saskatchewan — I’ve never forgotten where I’ve come from,” he said. “I know my grass roots. This is exciting for me. I’m ecstatic to be here in La Ronge, turn things around and get involved in the community and get the people excited about the upcoming year for the Ice Wolves.”
Kaminski says he talked to some of the veterans at spring camp and there’s reason for optimism.
“I talked to (Zach) Bannister over the weekend. There’s a kid who doesn’t want to go anywhere. He loves it here and he wants to win here. Same with Jordan Frey and a few other (veteran) guys. They’re excited to come back. We’ve got to put some new life in these kids and in the barn and community. That’s what we’ve got to build. We’ve got to change things up, learn to have fun and learn to win. With that willingness, not just in work ethic but a willingness in compete work ethic.”
‘KILLER’ KNOWN AS A FIGHTER
Kaminski played his midget AAA hockey in Saskatoon with the Blazers and remains as the team’s all-time career points leader with 103 in 32 games.
He went on to play three seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades. He racked up 38 goals and 61 assists for 99 points, along with 247 penalty minutes, in 55 games during the 1987-88 season alone.
Kaminski, who was drafted by the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars, spent 11 years in the pro ranks. After brief stints with Minnesota and the Quebec Nordiques, he eventually became a fan favourite with the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
Kaminski played in 147 NHL games, scoring three goals and added 10 assists to go with 580 penalty minutes.
In total, including his days in midget hockey, WHL, International Hockey League, American Hockey League and NHL, Kaminski compiled a whopping 4,305 penalty minutes in 828 games played.
That’s the equivalent of 72 60-minute games spent in the Sin Bin.
“I get that rap that I was just a fighter and everything else, but you can look at my points (in midget AAA and junior), they speak for themselves,” noted Kaminski, who spent two years mentoring under Babcock before setting out on his own.
“After retired (from playing), I worked with Babcock. I learned from chalk talk, teaching and developing through video, and on-ice, just going through things, whether it’s power play or penalty killing and game-time situations.
“I’m always looking at things. When I watch the NHL, I’m looking for the new nuances in the game, how they talk and how they transfer to the players.
“I think I’m definitely a student of the game.”
Kaminski says that, as a player, you know the game and how to anticipate. He always kept an open mind.
“Now, as a coach, it’s about getting 25 guys on the same page. Whether you’re more talented or a little bit more skilled, you have to work. You have to be those leaders. Everyone down the line, it’s just an ultra compete level that we have to have, not just a good work ethic.
“It’s the willingness to learn and get better every day.”
Kaminski says his coaching style is about work ethic and systems.
“And they work, man,” he said. “I’m not a big yeller. I might yell once or twice a year to maybe get their attention but I tell them up front, ‘fellas, we play 60 minutes and, if we can’t do that, then we’re going to skate for 60. You don’t want that because my skates aren’t fun. So let’s do it now.’ Again, that ultra-compete level in practice and every game. You always need somebody to step up to the plate, whether it’s the first line, or second line or the fourth line.
“You look at the New York Islanders (in the early 1980s). They had (Bobby) Nystrom and John Tonelli and Butch Goring – those guys stepped up. And that’s what we need and we need it every night.”
Kaminski says he remains an Islanders fan, especially now with former Caps coach Barry Trotz as their head coach. Trotz was Kaminski’s coach when they won a Calder Cup in 1995 with the Portland Pirates.
TIMING WAS RIGHT
Kaminski says he had applied for the various coaching positions with the Saskatoon Blades in recent years, hoping to get back to his hockey roots.
“Back from when I played with the Blades, I still know a lot of people that I keep in contact with and a lot of those people still help me out, to this day, with my charity golf tournament back in my hometown in Churchbridge,” noted Kaminski. “They donate stuff and everything. Throughout the winter, I keep in contact with those people. That’s what this game is all about, keeping those relationships.
“I’ve always tried to be diligent in responding to the people I grew up with and that have gone on to be successful. It’s not just about hockey; it’s about personal relationships, as well.”
The “timing was right,” he says, to take on the La Ronge job.
As much as he “loved it in Fresno,” he was looking for a change, hockey-wise. He also wanted to be closer to his dad, Julian, who still lives in Churchbridge and will turn 79 on May 6.
“He’s a big part of it,” said Kaminski. “He’s still active and doing great. He helps me with my golf tournament and looks after the town hall and all that, but I thought the time was right to spend a little more time with him.”
Kaminski also wanted to be closer to his girlfriend in Saskatoon.
“Those were the main reasons,” explained Kaminski. “The timing was perfect for everything.”
Kaminski has three daughters. The oldest has graduated from St. Norbert College and now teaches. The middle one is graduating from St. Norbert this year and the youngest will be graduating from high school.
The Wolves have been trending upwards, at least, moving from six wins to eight wins and 12 wins in the last three seasons. They were 12-44-1-1 last season.
That upwards trend, Kaminski quips, “makes me smile then.”
He is serious, though, about building a contender.
“Our goal is not to just make the playoffs. Our goal is to finish as one of the top teams in the league. With the people we have on board right now, I really think we can accomplish that with a good product on the ice and everyone buying into the systems and just going to war, going through the wall for each other — that’s what we’ve got to learn.
“We know it’s going to be a challenge to get players here, but we’re going to do everything possible with our scouting staff and everything else. We want to make it a great destination.”