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Kotyk retires, begins coaching career in ECHL

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A former Dauphin King is stepping behind the bench after a three-year career in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).
Brenden Kotyk played two seasons with the Kings. He came to the team as a forward, but then head coach and general manager Marlin Murray moved him to the blueline where Kotyk excelled, winning the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Top Defenceman Award in 2011-12, while being named to the first all-star team.
The Regina native accepted a scholarship to The College of St. Scholastica, playing one season at the Division 3 school.
The skating coach at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, also worked with St. Scholastica players. She talked to the Minnesota-Duluth head coach.
After some negotiations, Kotyk was offered a spot as a red shirt.
“They couldn’t guarantee me any playing (time) or much scholarship money or that I would play the next year,” he explained.
After speaking with his mother, Kotyk accepted the offer. He had to sit out his first year at the Division 1 school, but that, he said, was the best thing for him.
“Because I wasn’t ready to play at that level,” he said.
“So I was able to practice. I was practicing as a D. I was practicing as a forward. Both helped me get acclimated to the speed and the pace and the skill set.”
The next year, one of the team’s big recruits of defence left to play in the Western Hockey League, which allowed Kotyk to crack the roster.
“By the end of my time there, I was on pretty much a full scholarship. And I wore a letter and helped the team to the national championship game, which we lost to Denver,” he said.
There was an adjustment between Division 3 and Division 1. Kotyk said there are a lot of good players in Division 3.
“A lot of guys who, in juniors, would be captains. Hard workers and maybe just missing something,” he said.
“But regardless, the skill set was just so much different. I played with nine guys on that team that play in the NHL. So it’s just a different dynamic, for sure.”
Playing professionally has always been a dream for Kotyk. Like all young players growing up, the dream was to reach the NHL.
Kotyk did attend a couple of development camps and NHL main camps, but never got into any games.
His next goal was to play in the American Hockey League, a feat he accomplished in 2017-18, when he played seven games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, recording one goal and one assist.
“That was pretty special for me. Playing professional hockey was my end goal,” he said.
Kotyk spent most of that season with the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits and was called up by the Wolf Pack later in the season, spending about three months with Hartford.
“It was amazing. It was great, especially with the (New York) Rangers. I went to their development camp and then I went to their Traverse City rookie tournament camp and main camp. They do everything first class,” he said.
“So when I got to Hartford, it was the same thing. We’d have breakfast every day at the rink. The staff was great. The strength and conditioning had an assistant. The athletic department had an assistant. And then the equipment trainers had an assistant. They were just amazing people.”
Kotyk played under Keith McCambridge, who now coaches the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.
“He was a great coach and it was a great overall experience,” Kotyk said.
Kotyk played the next two seasons with the Toledo Walleye, helping the team reach the Kelly Cup championship final, losing to the Newfoundland Growlers in six games.
The caliber of hockey, Kotyk said, in the ECHL is a lot better than people think.
“Even myself. I didn’t think it was bad hockey by any means. But especially now, they’re getting those enforcers out of the league and out of the game. So a lot of teams, if they’re affiliated with an NHL team, will send their guys down there,” he said.
“It’s really good hockey. I say it all the time. They only really show the line brawls or the fights and they think that’s all it is, but it’s a very skilled league now.”
With the AHL shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of players from that league are now hitting the ice in the ECHL.
Kotyk retired as a player in mid-November. He had been thinking about it for a while and looked into it in his second year in Toledo.
“But I didn’t do enough planning for it. So my last year, I made a resumé and passed it around to some of the coaches I know and just started fielding phone calls after the season and was close to a couple of jobs and got a few, but couldn’t get a working visa at the time,” he said.
Things eventually fell into place and he was recently hired as an assistant coach with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.
“I’m very proud of my career and the things I accomplished. But at some point, whether you play in the NHL for your whole life, it’s going to come to an end. I thought I wanted to get into the coaching game while I was still somewhat young,” he said, adding his body was getting banged up a bit, too.
There is a lot for Kotyk to learn when it comes to coaching, such as watching video and scouting the opposition.
“And a lot of behind the scenes stuff like travel receipts and setting up hotels and whatnot. So far, it’s been great. I’m extremely happy with my decision. I wouldn’t change it for the world. The guys have been great,” he said, adding it is just like playing in that he is learning something new all the time.
And Kotyk has been getting a lot of help from head coach Ryan Blair, who has been taking the time to make sure Kotyk’s knows everything he needs to know.
“And hopefully, get a head job one day myself,” Kotyk added.
“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
As a former player himself, Kotyk is able to relate to what the players are going through.
“It’s just a lot of preparation and time that goes into it. We’re usually here for 12, 13 hours a day and it feels like we’re only at the rink for two, which is good. It’s not like we’re staring at the clock. Time just seems to fly by.”
The ECHL season is under way, with the Stingrays sitting in second place in the South Division at 3-0-2-0.
Kotyk is looking forward to the rest of the season, noting there are a lot of returning players.
“So I think there’s some unfinished business and the guys have been great so far,” he said.

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Doug Zywina
REPORTER
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