The Pittsburgh Pirates may have started the "We Are Family" phrase in sports, but Camrose Kodiaks head coach and general manager Boris Rybalka perfected it. Every player that has pulled on a Kodiaks' uniform has become part of the family.
Rybalka gives credit to the organization's father figure. "When you have a president like Barry Fossen, he allows the hockey people to do the job they are suppose to do. No disrespect to other organizations, but if you own a car company, are you going to call a doctor to tell you how to fix a motor? Mr. Fossen has allowed the hockey people to do what they are supposed to do. If you allow the people to stay the course, and keep teaching and instilling skills, good things will happen. We think we built the right model."
To be successful, people can't take the easy way out. "This is a hockey business and the key is to surround yourself with the right people. For us, we have been allowed to do what we need to do."
The Kodiaks have bypassed some good players along the way because they didn't fit the mold of a hard-working bear. "We want players that match our morals, standards and work ethic. For some reason if they don't work out, we trade or release them with no hard feelings. We build a mold here. When we are not happy as a coaching staff, it is when we are not working hard. Our backgrounds are hard work. It is not just about skills. It is about representing the city and the jersey."
Rybalka and his volunteer staff have created a family culture that has led to success on and off the ice. The coach and GM treats all of his hockey players likes sons and he knows family comes first.
The Kodiaks look for players that will follow their work ethic, system, rules, structure, discipline, off-ice, team building, community work, pride, heart and determination. "That is a lot of stuff to consider for 16 to 20 year olds when they come from different culture."
Rybalka and his assistant Doug Fleck often receive calls from parents asking what we did to their sons who never used to wash dishes, do laundry or mop floors. "We turned them around using life skills and now they are part of our family and a Kodiak."
The RBC Cup made a huge change in goalie Mike Brodeur's life. Brodeur not only geared up his performance for the playoffs, he even took it up another notch to be named Top Goaltender at the 2003 RBC Cup. "It wasn't just me. We had a great team, great coaching and we worked hard. It all came down to the fact we bonded so well. We were family. There were no cliques." When the Kodiaks had a practice or a function all 22 players spent a lot of time together to create a special bond.
After Camrose won the 2001 RBC Cup, they were on the radar of most good hockey players. "Success was the first thing I thought about with Camrose. It was always a team that everybody wanted to go play for. Boris is one of the best coaches I have ever had the pleasure to work with. He is a great coach and person and that is hard to come by at that level. You put that with the fact Camrose is a good place to play in, great town. I couldn't have chosen a better place to play," said Brodeur.
Like a good father, Rybalka wants his hockey playing "adopted sons" to succeed. The tough love approach has worked wonders over the years. "That is why he has been so successful," added Brodeur. "For me personally, it's mental. I was hard on myself. Boris made me look past that and helped me forget about the rough night and think about the good ones."
Mason Raymond is enjoying life with the Vancouver Canucks. His road to the NHL started when he decided to join the Kodiaks. "I remember when I was in Midget, I heard nothing but good things about Camrose and their organization and program. Camrose has been an organization that has had great success over time and each year put forth a good contending club. I think as a player that is something you look more for, a team that has had good success. The coaches are there for you, to help you succeed and move on to the next level."
Rybalka knew how to inspire Mason to get him to the next level. "I thrive on communication and I remember him telling me that it was my privilege to play hockey, not my right. He made me do things that I didn't think I was capable of doing."
Mason said the atmosphere in Camrose also played an important role in his development. "It is always fun to play in front of a lot of people. Camrose is a great community for a junior hockey club. They love their hockey and support it very well."
Raymond still relishes the opportunity he had to play in the RBC Cup. "That was a huge part of my career and where I was recognized as a player. That tournament has great exposure for junior players playing Junior A hockey. It was a huge stepping stone for me to move forward in my career."
"We know we have the best coaching staff at the junior level in Canada," said current goalie Dalyn Flette. "I've played in the Western Hockey League and I came back here because I know this is the best place to be to learn and be able to move up to play at the professional or university level."