HUMBOLDT — When Battlefords North Stars head coach Brayden Klimosko was asked about what allowed his team to win the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) championship, the Humboldt product deflected any praise to his players.
“The leadership we had in that group, in our 20-year-olds, and the resiliency they had to play for each other,” he said.
“They wanted to play for each other.”
However, there is no doubt that the rookie head coach played a big role in guiding the North Stars to the Canalta Cup championship. The North Stars overcame such challenges as integrating a large group of new players and long road trips to finish second in the SJHL in the regular season. The team captured the Canalta Cup by winning the league finals 4-1 against Melfort.
What has Klimosko enjoyed most about coaching in Battlefords?
“The crowds and the support you get there. In game five, we had 2,500 against Melfort.
They love their hockey,” the son of Shelley and Tim Klimosko said. “It reminds me of home.”
Klimosko said he was appreciative of the support he has received from his home area. He noted that fans came from Humboldt to the finals games in Melfort and cheered on the North Stars.
“I’d like to thank Humboldt for all the support. When we won, I think there were 134 messages on my phone – and a lot were from back home,” he said.
This past season put Klimosko in the interesting predicament of coaching against the Humboldt Broncos – the team he played for, he coached for, his dad coached for, and he grew up rooting for.
“It sucks, to be honest. It’s awkward,” he said. “Every time I go into the Elgar Petersen Arena, it feels weird to be on the away bench.”
Klimosko suited up for the Broncos from 2005 to 2008. From those years he said he remembers most playing for his dad, who was then an assistant coach, and having fun competing with a number of local teammates, as well as the success the Broncos had. The team won the 2007 league title. The next season the Broncos repeated as SJHL champs and went on to win a national championship in Cornwall, Ont.
While enjoying the team’s ride, Klimosko said he probably didn’t fully appreciate how hard it is to win.
“Now I get to kind of relive it through these young players of mine,” he said.
Klimosko spent four seasons as an assistant coach with the Broncos. He went on to work as an assistant coach for the Drumheller Dragons in 2017-18. Klimosko praised his experience working under ex-Broncos bench bosses Dean Brockman, Ryan Smith and Darcy Haugan as well as Dragons head coach Kevin Hasselberg, who had coached the North Stars.
“I challenge anybody to say they had four better coaches to learn from.,” Klimosko said. “You learn a little bit from each of them and you put your own spin on things.”
As far as what he would take from each, Klimosko said it’d be Brockman’s winning tradition, Smith’s intensity, the late Haugan’s care for his players, and Hassleberg’s structure.
In addition to working for those coaches and playing for Brockman, Klimosko also played junior football for two seasons for Tom Sargeant and the Saskatoon Hilltops. He said he also learned from Sargeant, a “perennial winner.”
In 2017, the North Stars won the SJHL title. The 2018 squad had hoped to repeat but fell in the semifinals 4-1 to Estevan after posting the league’s second-best record.
“They had a bitter taste in their mouths from not winning,” Klimosko said. :They had one last kick at the can and wanted the new guys to be part of it.”
The 2018-19 North Stars, under Klimosko, had 12 rookies and 17 new players. When asked about how that team came together, the head coach said it was the returning players who moulded everyone. As an example of the team playing for each other, he pointed out how there were 19 different goal scorers for the North Stars in the playoffs.
“We really did get contributions from everyone,” Klimosko said. “That is the reason why we won some tight games.”
However, the North Stars did have to overcome adversity. Early on the results the team was looking for did not always come. Riding a three-game winning streak, the North Stars were 19-9-6 entering the Christmas break. Klimosko praised the Battlefords fans for sticking with them.
“They saw that there was the potential of being a very special team.”
He also emphasized the team’s approach was “You win or you learn rather than lose.” In their last 24 regular season games, the North Stars were 16-4-4. What could have been a gruelling stretch of road games actually seemed to help the team.
“We were on the road for six straight weekends. We became close as a group and we played a simpler style of hockey,” said Klimosko, who noted sometimes teams try to play a big fancier at home.
As the wins accumulated, “Just the belief among the group got more and more,” he said.
In regards to the team’s success, Klimosko said he was fortunate to have the players he had. For example, team captain Cody Spagrud was the SJHL’s top defenceman award winner. His head coach called him a “generational player. Goalie Joel Grzybowski was the playoff MVP with a .950 save percentage.
Once the playoffs came, the North Stars found themselves in a battle with the Flin Flon Bombers. Battlefords won the first three games of the best-of-seven series but lost the next three. Four of the games went to overtime with game five requiring three extra sessions. In game seven, the North Stars prevailed 4-1.
“That might be the most gruelling series I have been a part of. It was seven games of two teams going at each other. It was unbelievable,” Klimosko said.
Klimosko said the team gritted out the game-seven victory and it took the pressure off and helped the team moving forward.
In the SJHL semifinals, the North Stars shut out Yorkton in three of the contest en route to a four-game sweep. Battlefords won the Canalta Cup 4-1 over Melfort.