Behind the bench with Waselenchuk

Goaltending coach keeps busy with Beavers, Minotauros

Alex Eisen/MDN Assistant coach Wyatt Waselenchuk (top left) watches the action during a Minotauros game played last weekend at Maysa Arena.

From drawing goalie masks when he was five years old to strapping on the pads himself to now becoming the instructor, Wyatt Waselenchuk has always been fascinated by the puck stopper between the pipes.

“I’ve been obsessed with it my whole life,” Waselenchuk said. “I don’t know if I could see myself doing anything different.”

Waselenchuk’s passion for goaltending has taken him on a wandering journey from the frozen ponds of Vancouver, Canada, to uncovering another home in Minot, North Dakota.

The 29-year-old can be found behind the bench for the two most prominent hockey organizations in Minot: The NAHL Minot Minotauros and the ACHA Division I Minot State University Beavers.

Waselenchuk is also involved with the Minot Hockey Boosters youth program and is the head instructor and owner of his own business, Accel Goaltending, which offers year-round goaltending development camps.

“It’s tough, as you can see by how big this coffee is that I’m drinking,” Waselenchuk said about managing his time after taking a slip from his elongated coffee mug. “It’s a balancing act for sure.”

Anxious odyssey to Minot

Waselenchuk, a native of Port Moody, British Columbia, bounced around Canada in his junior hockey playing days.

Among those teams he geared up for included the Vancouver NE Chiefs (BCMML), Port Moody Black Panthers (PIJHL), Langley Chiefs (BCHL) and the Nipawin Hawks (SJHL).

Waselenchuk made appearances for the last three teams on that list during a shaky final junior hockey league season in 2009-10. At each of the stops, he averaged over 4.2 goals per game and a save percentage under 90 percent.

Uncertain about his future, Waselenchuk took a leap of faith to play college hockey for Minot State.

“At the time, things were kind of up in the air and didn’t know what I was going to do after my 20-year-old season,” Waselenchuk said. “I know talking with my family, it was kind of a scary decision to come out here. I knew nobody… Still to this day, I tell (MSU head coach) Wade (Regier) and he doesn’t believe it, but I didn’t even know if I was going to make the team.”

Waselenchuk was so nervous after tryouts that he refused to see the final verdict for himself.

“I remember sending one my teammates up to the board and saying, ‘I can’t even go up there to look,'” Waselenchuk recalled. “Wade (Regier) doesn’t agree with that story, but it was true. I was so unsure of where I fitted (on the team). And I had bounced around quite a bit in junior hockey.”

From Regier’s outlook, Waselenchuk already had a spot on the team when he arrived. Despite a large number of walk-ons at the tryout, Regier wasn’t going to cut somebody he had convinced to relocate.

“He tells it to me like he was sweating bullets,” Regier said. “I told him after he made the team, ‘Wyatt, I don’t cut recruits.’ I don’t tell you to invest in coming here and enroll in classes just to cut you right away.”

Waselenchuk’s first season as a Minot State goalie was Regier’s first season as the Beavers’ head coach. Their relationship flourished from there.

Due to some bizarre circumstances, Waselenchuk found himself playing right away in his freshman season.

“Some injuries and there was a goalie from Scotland, who ironically enough made the team, but his parents were in a bitter divorce,” Regier said. “The dad had to pay some alimony, or something along those lines, and they couldn’t afford for him to go to school anymore. So, they actually shipped him back to Scotland around Christmas time. So, we went from four goalies down to Wyatt (Waselenchuk) and Craig Harvey. That’s what we were stuck with.”

Over four seasons (2010-14), Waselenchuk played in 85 regular season games for the Beavers and averaged 2.23 goals allowed per game for a season. He was named the ACHA Division I Player of the Year in 2013 after helping the Beavers claim their first and only national championship in program history.

“He was a goalie that two minutes into a game you almost wanted a breakdown to happen so he could make a big save,” Regier said. “You don’t want to say it, but allow a defender to walk in and take a good shot. If he made that first key save, boom, lights out.”

Following graduation, Waselenchuk returned to Canada and started up Accel Goaltending. Looking to get some social media promotion for one of his upcoming camps, Waselenchuk called up Regier.

That conversation lasted for about two hours, and a month later Waselenchuk was moving back to Minot to be an assistant coach for the Beavers.

“I’m from Vancouver, one of the nicest places in the world, they say, to live,” Waselenchuk said. “And I choose to live here. I think that tells you everything you need to know about my experience in Minot as a player.”

The student becomes

the teacher

As a goaltender, Waselenchuk self-described himself as being regimented. He was detail driven and put a lot of weight on his shoulders.

“Being that way, for me, was good and bad,” Waselenchuk said. “I put a lot more pressure on myself, but it’s such an individualized position that you have to prepare differently. You can’t just be one of the guys, show up and go through the motions. I think every great goaltender, from our level to the National Hockey League, has some sort of routine that they follow.”

It’s an approach that isn’t for everybody. Something Waselenchuk has come to realize being a coach.

There really isn’t a blueprint to mold a perfect goaltender.

“When I was coming up, and working with different goaltending coaches, it was about teaching a style like the butterfly style,” Waselenchuk said. “It’s not really like that today, everybody kind of plays similar. You just have different strengths with bigger and smaller guys.”

Waselenchuk sees both ends of the spectrum while working with Minot State and the Minotauros. There are the imposing 6-foot-4 goalies that can cover a majority of the net without even moving. There are also the agile 5-foot-10 goalies with superb reaction times. The combination of playing styles are extensive.

Therefore, each goalie needs individualized training once the basics and fundamentals have been instilled.

“I think that’s the coolest part of it,” Waselenchuk said. “How you play as a goalie and what makes you successful is a little bit like an artform. There are a lot of different ways you can stop a puck.”

While the physical attributes are noticeable, it’s the mental aspect of the position that can affect goaltenders the most at the higher levels.

Being invincible starts with feeling invincible.

“These guys have been playing for so long now that they know what it takes to dial themselves in,” Waselenchuk said. “So, a lot of it is mental. It’s about getting a text from one of your guys at 11 o’clock on a Friday and them saying they are feeling a certain way about their start tomorrow. I lend a helping hand to that.”

Always on the move

Assisting two teams, Waselenchuk has a hand in a lot of things with countless hours logged at the ice rink.

His locker at Maysa Arena reflects that.

“He wears a lot of hats and has a few track jackets hanging up in his locker,” Minotauros head coach Marty Murray said. “He does a great job, not only for us, but for all of Minot. He works from the youth and up… For us, to have that experience goalie guy who can relate to our goalies on a daily basis is a huge asset.”

When schedules collide, Waselenchuk usually sides more with Beavers because the Minotauros also have assistant coach Shane Wagner to utilize.

Waselenchuk is still trying to develop his skills to be in two or three places at once.

“Every day I’m at both practices and workouts,” he said. “There is not a lot of weekends off, but it’s a pretty cool way to make a living for me. It’s been a great fit and both organizations have been super understanding about when I need time off to go with one team or the other. It works out well.”

With the Minotauros, Minot State and Minot Hockey Boosters all chipping in, Waselenchuk can make a living doing what he loves. His devotion to the sport and goaltending is one of the reasons why Regier brought Waselenchuk back to Minot as an assistant coach in the first place.

Now, three years later, Waselenchuk is longest assistant coach Regier has ever had.

“(Waselenchuk) was a kid, just like myself, that this was the only real, serious option that he had as a player (to keep on playing) and was affordable enough for him to go,” Regier said. “He relished that opportunity. Now, as an assistant coach, he brings all those same qualities to our locker room. Even right now, we are a team that is battling inconsistencies and are still a young team. Wyatt (Waselenchuk) is the guy that goes in and tells them to appreciate this opportunity.”

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