SHERWOOD PARK, AB – After the hiring’s of Adam Manah and Kyle Chase, the Crusaders had seemingly solidified their hockey operations staff for the 2016/2017 season. With Manah and Chase joining Crusaders head scout Vince Sinatynski and academic advisor Gerald Kunyk, the organization entered the final month of the offseason with optimism. However, August 10th marked a change of plans for the Crusaders. Associate coach and former NHL defender Shawn Belle was promoted to the ranks of assistant coach with NAIT of the ACAC, joining the recently departed Tim Fragle with the squad. While replacing a quality hockey person such as Belle is never an easy task, the Crusaders were quick to find a suitable replacement.
On August 11th, 2016, the Crusaders announced the hiring of former NHL and DEL defenseman Jeff Woywitka to replace Belle as the organizations defensive coach. With the hiring, Woywitka brought a wealth of experience to the Crusaders bench in his inaugural season as coach. While his first job in the AJHL, Woywitka was well versed with playing experience with over 700 professional games played in his career, including 278 at the NHL level.
“(The opportunity to) get hired by the Cru was obviously something I wanted to be a part of,” said Woywitka, reflecting on his first season. “It was good for me to learn the coaching side of things from guys like (GM) Kyle Chase and Adam Manah, as well as the other great people in the organization. Right off the bat, they made me feel welcome; working with defensemen is what I’ve been brought up doing, and something that I’m knowledgeable at.”
“Jeff brings a wealth of knowledge with his playing experience and background. He will be a great asset on the back end for us in helping develop our defensemen, and being able to teach them the little details to make us tough to play against,” said Adam Manah in his first interview with Taylor Medak about the hiring.
Throughout the season, Woywitka routinely proved to be a savvy hire by the organization. In 2016/2017, Manah and Woywitka combined to lead the Crusaders to their most successful season by a rookie coaching squad in their history. In addition, Jeff earned constant praise from both the on and off ice members of the team, with coach Manah giving heavy praise in his final edition of Coaches Corner with Taylor Medak.
“It was a lot of fun (working with Jeff). Him and I get along really, really well. We keep things loose, and that’s one of the biggest things you need at the Junior A level. Jeff is a player’s type coach, and honestly some of the things he does make me laugh. He pushed me to be a better coach, and made me think outside the box. That’s what you need; a good relationship so that you set yourselves up for success. Jeff’s a huge part of that.”
When asked to sum up his first season as bench boss, Woywitka was quick to answer. “ I couldn’t have asked for a better organization to get my start with at the Junior A level. It’s been fantastic.”
Next week in our Top 20 of 2016/2017, we take a look back at the first move of GM Kyle Chase’s tenure, with the acquisition of Tanner Younghans. Stay tuned!
– Story by Spencer Love