The Canadian landscape is dotted with them. So similar in size, commerce and social stature that they might be too numerous to actually count on a national map.
But what really separates one small community from another – especially in farming-rich regions like the Canadian prairies – is junior hockey; or more specifically, the success of your junior team.
Build a winner that perennially challenges for a championship and the franchise can thrive financially, recruit the best talent to your program with less effort than your competition and gain national notoriety for your program and town.
One such place to find itself above the national topography for its on-ice success is Humboldt, Saskatchewan, a community of just under 6,000 people and about an hour’s drive east of Saskatoon.
As home to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Humboldt Broncos, the city and team have shared a symbiotic relationship of prosperity for years, especially since 2007 when the Broncos won three straight SJHL titles, an RBC Cup in 2008 and this year will be the host city for five-team RBC Cup tournament.
But deeper than just the crowning achievements, the anatomy of operating a successful Junior A program like the Broncos takes some special people – the architects of success, if you will.
Asked to mention a few famous hockey names from Humboldt and surrounding area and Dean Brockman will likely be omitted or over sighted in favour of more notable locals like Hockey Hall of Famer Glenn Hall and former NHLers Brendan Witt, Kyle McLaren and Nathan Paetsch. But there and are many others within the city who would place Brockman among the leading luminaries in Humboldt hockey history.
In his 15th season with the Broncos and eighth as the club’s head coach, Brockman admits his entrance into the coaching fraternity was a “fluke.” It was a career that started in his early 20s when a local youth team needed a bench boss and from there, he admits, it was the love of the game, the kids and competitiveness that drew him in further.
But even with three league titles, two ANAVET Cup championships, a national crown and a recent gold medal as an assistant coach with Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge, Brockman shrugs off the notion that he’s in any way responsible for putting Humboldt on the map because of the success his hockey team has had in recent years.
“That’s a tough question. It’s really a two-part answer: the people of Humboldt have really aided the Broncos and the Broncos have really helped in turn by reaping the success of what sacrifices the community has made for them.”
“He’s built a great franchise there,” says Brian Munz, the former radio voice of the Broncos from 1995-2000 and now the play-by-play radio voice of the Winnipeg Jets. “He’s put Humboldt on the map for hockey. He’s built a program where you want your kids to go and play Junior A hockey.”
And while not many can use Junior A hockey as a primary source of income, Brockman is a tireless worker at his coaching craft who also handles the general manager and marketing director duties with the Broncos. However, he also requires the family farm to maintain a quality standard of living.
Between his father and siblings, Brockman, 44, is part of a mixed farm operation that seeds 3,500 acres and feeds 80 head of cattle. It’s a busy lifestyle that has him working beyond the parameters of dawn to dusk for nearly 12 months a year.
“There’s no typical day,” says Brockman, who appreciates the support of his wife, Cheryl and boys, Connor, 16, and Parker, 6, when the days as farmer, coach, GM and marketing director leave little time for anything but a visit home for a few hours of shut-eye.
“I have an excellent support group,” he says. “My family is very understanding on both ends of it. A lot of people are very supportive of what I’m doing and I receive a lot of help both at home and with the Broncos. My organization trusts me on what I’m doing. At the end of the day I like to be busy and contribute. That’s the bottom line.”
Furthermore, not unlike many big city employees, Brockman has a commute to tackle every morning and evening. A product and resident of St. Benedict, Sask. (pop. 82), he puts on 110 kilometres on the highway per day from home to the rink in Humboldt and back.
It’s that type of commitment that has made Brockman a three-time coach of the year in the SJHL (2006-2009) and a guy that players gravitate to and peers from across the game respect.
“He’s a really respected guy from his history of tradition and winning,” says Broncos’ captain Taylor Johnson, a Humboldt product that has played for Brockman the past three seasons.
“Hands down, he’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He can be your friend and comes to rink with a lot of respect for you. He’s a coach that you want to win for. I think with our team, we want to win for Dean.”
And by virtue of hosting the 2012 RBC Cup, Brockman and the Broncos already have a chance to win another national title. And if that comes to fruition on home ice this May, then Humboldt might just get a little larger on the Canadian map.