There have been some trying times during Severyn Wojcik’s tenure as coach of the Springfield Sabres boys’ hockey team.
After a surprising run to the True North Division final in the team’s inaugural season in 2007-08, the Sabres struggled for several of the following years, bottoming out with a 4-17-1 season in 2011-12.
Wojcik, 32, helped right the Sabres’ ship, changing the team’s culture to orchestrate a turnaround with a 17-5 regular-season record and, ultimately, a victory over first-place Warren to take the Winnipeg High School Hockey League’s Price Division championship in March. The title came after a strong year in 2012-13 that saw the team peak too early, but the Sabres perfected their arc this season.
"It’s nice to get the program back on track," he said. "Kids are choosing to play here now instead of me begging kids to come play for us. They’re quitting AAA to come play for us, which is a positive sign.
"It was right from the get-go that we looked at kids that had talent, but character was very important as well."
The Transcona resident and former River East Royal Knights netminder was soon honoured as the WHSHL’s coach of the year, and on April 30, was named the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association’s Subway Urban Coach of the Month.
Wojcik was weathered by the challenges, as there were some seasons where the quality and quantity of players weren’t available to him.
"A few years there, the numbers for hockey in Springfield were at an all-time low," he said. "We just took whoever we could, and there were a couple years where we had some real off-ice issues, a lot of problems in the dressing room, and students not being very positive in the classroom. For a year there, our program got a bad name because of that, and it was really difficult to get through that."
Wojcik went through some personal adversity shortly before starting up the Sabres program with manager David MacLean, as he was forced to stop playing because of injuries he sustained playing in Europe.
"I couldn’t play anymore and thought ‘What am I going to do?’" he recalled. "I started up this program, and it filled the void. That filled my passion, to stay on the ice with kids.
"Whatever decision we feel is right, we truly take the politics out of it and do what we think is right."
The addition of former Eastman Selects AAA players forward Riley Welsh, who led the team with 64 points, and defenceman Jesse Mitchell, with 35 of his own, were a boon for the Sabres in both the talent and leadership columns. Wojcik convinced them they would enjoy the game more at the high school level, and neither was inhibited in their ability to move up the ranks, as both have tryouts for Junior ‘A’ programs in Saskatchewan for next season.
"They wanted to play together and win a championship together," Wojcik said. "The two kids that came down from AAA, they were really positive leaders. They didn’t come down and know everything.
"They were great leaders for the other kids."
Grade 12 centre Austin Frame, who also served as team captain, appreciated Wojcik’s approach to coaching, encouraging a selfless style of play.
"Everyone played their role perfectly. Everybody knew what needed to happen, everybody had to play the right way — short shifts, be in for the team, not yourself," the Oakbank resident said, referring to Wojcik as a "players’ coach". "He lets you know what’s going to happen, how everything’s going to be run. He’s not going to single out one person whether they’re doing good or bad. It’s always about the team."