It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for John Becanic, but the new Wenatchee Wild head coach got his tenure off on the right foot with three-game sweep in Dawson Creek prior to the holiday break.
“The transition was a bit hectic with such a short turnaround time, but starting on the road allowed me to spend more time with the players,” said Becanic.
The Wild’s games against the Rage gave Becanic, who was serving as an assistant coach with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League before accepting the position in Wenatchee, a glimpse of the promise he has to work with as the team starts the second half of its season.
“I think this is a very talented group of individuals,” said Becanic, whose Wild sits in third place in the West Division standings with 38 points. “They’ve endured a challenge with the coaching change, but have managed to stay focused on the immediate task at hand.
“I thought they were very coachable up in Dawson Creek and welcomed me to their group. Now that there’s stability back in their lives, we can focus on improving everyday.”
No stranger to the NAHL, Becanic served as Bismarck’s head coach and general manager from 1996-2001 before assuming the same roles with the defunct Pittsburgh Forge from 2001-03.
Becanic, who led the Forge to the league championship in 2003, is excited where the league is headed.
“The NAHL has changed significantly over the past eight years I’ve been gone, and I think (NAHL commissioner) Mark (Frankenfeld) and the rest of the NAHL staff have worked hard at creating a very desirable product,” he said.
And Wenatchee has been one of the NAHL’s elite, having been named Organization of the Year twice while advancing to two Robertson Cup Championship Tournaments since joining the league in 2008-09.
“I’m very excited about working with the Wild,” said Becanic. “They’ve proven over the past two years their commitment to excellence.”
As for the team he just inherited, Becanic has been impressed with a number of players, including forwards Ben Carey, an Air Force recruit, and Eliot Grauer and defenseman Kyle Huson, all of whom have been impact players of late, according to the coach.
“Ben is a real student of the game and has contributed at both ends of the ice, and Eliot has quickly become an offensive threat and is now leading our team in goals (15),” said Becanic. “Kyle is just a reliable defenseman that’s of the highest character. You win championships with players like Kyle.”
Becanic, who says the strength of the team is the depth and balance it has across the board, also points the play of goaltenders Brandon Jaeger and Nick Kulmanovsky as keys to the team’s second-half success.
“You also need maturity and leadership from your older players, and I think we have an excellent group that will be very calming down the stretch,” he said.
Becanic’s focus moving forward is simple: work hard, continue to improve and take things one day at a time.
“Everything else will follow and the wins will take care of themselves,” he said.
WEST DIVISION NOTEBOOK
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Alaska, which entered the holiday break with a 3-2 triumph over Kenai River on Dec. 18 - Alaska-Anchorage recruit Matt Friese scored the game-winning goal and an assist in the win - rings in the New Year with a pair of games in Fairbanks on Friday and Saturday.
DAWSON CREEK RAGE: Despite losing three games to Wenatchee heading into the holidays, forward Scott Fellnermayr racked up four assists, including three in the Rage’s 6-3 loss on Dec. 18. The 19-year-old from West Kelowna, British Columbia, has 18 points on the season (13 assists) in 32 games.
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: California native JT Osborn came up big in his return to his home state before the break, ringing up five goals and an assist in a three-game sweep in Fresno. The 19-year-old leads the Ice Dogs in scoring (eighth in the NAHL) with 38 points in 31 games.
FRESNO MONSTERS: The Monsters, which lost three games to division-leading Fairbanks heading into the break, plays its next six games on the road with two-game sets against Wenatchee (Dec. 31-Jan 1), Wichita Falls (Jan. 7-8) and Texas (Jan. 11 and 15).
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Forward Doug Beck, a 20-year-old from Plymouth, Mich., has points in his last four games (three goals, two assists). He leads the Brown Bears in scoring with 35 points - his 20 goals are tied for sixth in the NAHL - through 28 games.