Revelstoke Grizzlies Assistant Coach Jiri Novak draws up a play for the players to execute during a Kootenay International Junior Hockey League game. / Matt Timmins Photo
Jiri Novak loves to work with hockey players and help them develop into better athletes and people.
After spending nearly three seasons in China as Head Coach of Beijing Ice Hockey, the Czechia native came to Canada to work at a higher level and gain experience.
“Hockey culture in China and Canada you can’t compare this experience,” he said.
He joined the KIJHL’s Revelstoke Grizzlies after being highly recommended to General Manager and Head Coach Ryan Parent, who has connections in the European country after having coached there.
Novak, who spent three seasons as an Assistant Coach with Slavia Praha Hockey Club in Czechia, was told the Junior B level isn’t the highest, but he has been impressed at the quality and has seen how many players from the KIJHL have advanced to play in Europe.
“I think that every year, the KIJHL is better and better,” said Novak, crediting the work of league coaches with its players.
The 36-year-old is happy for the opportunity that Parent has given him, with what he considers one of the top KIJHL organizations.
“It has really helped me open my eyes because then I saw how the Canadian coaches work with the players, how they talk, how they interact,” said Novak. “It’s totally different how we work with our players in Czech. We don’t have enough time or we can’t spend too much time like I can spend with our guys in Revelstoke.”
In Czechia, Novak coached San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl and Vladimir Sobotka, who played in the NHL with Boston, St. Louis and a brief stint in Buffalo. Novak uses his playing experience to coach players as can sense how they might react in certain situations and relay what they should do as plays develop.
Parent has seen Novak bring a steady influence to their defencemen and it helps that Novak has played professionally in his homeland’s Czechia3 league.
“He brings special attention to the defensive part of the game,” says Parent. “He is a strong leader. Jiri in my mind is one of the best and brightest young coaches in the league.”
Novak really likes the Grizzlies program because he can help the players develop their skills, and earn opportunities to play at the college level in Canada or the U.S.
“I try to work with them and show them clips from NHL players how they perform in different situations and how they react. I want to push them and motivate them to work really hard,” said Novak.