Former Cents Coach & GM Mike Vandekamp leaves Grande Prairie to join Nanaimo:

Former Cents coach & GM Mike Vandekamp is back in the BCHL with the Nanaimo Clippers.

Here’s the story from the Grande Prairie Tribune after a media conference this morning:

Vandekamp out, Bablitz in
By RAGNAR HAAGEN, Herald-Tribune staff

The Grande Prairie Storm Junior A hockey team is getting a makeover.

No, it won’t be the uniforms, and the players on the ice won’t change any more than previous years.

The difference is behind the bench.

Mike Vandekamp is heading for greener pastures: Literally.

Vandekamp has told the Daily Herald-Tribune that he is leaving Grande Prairie and the snow behind, to accept an offer from B.C.’s Nanaimo Clippers to become their new head coach and general manager.

“I have a childhood friend that now owns the Nanaimo Clippers and he and his partners have decided to make a change in the position of head coach and general manager there,” explained Vandekamp.

“We talked, and as a family, we decided that it was a move that we wanted to make.”

This decision was not long in the making; in fact Vandekamp said that it all happened in less than a week.

“It’s pretty fresh,” noted Vandekamp. “Basically, this past week has been very busy in regards to (the decision to move).”

Vandekamp has also said that he is leaving on amicable terms with the Storm and their management, and had nothing but good things to say about the organization.

“It’s been an absolutely terrific opportunity right from day one,” said Vandekamp. “By far, this has been the most well run, organized, most professional organization that I’ve been a part of.

“A very small amount of this has been a professional decision; it’s been a lot more of a family decision. My wife is a southern British Columbia person and when some of this came about, it was certainly partially driven from home. It’s just a lot closer to her family from a geographical standpoint.”

Taking his place behind the bench of the Grande Prairie Storm will be a person familiar to anyone who has followed Storm hockey over the years. Former player, and current assistant coach Blaine Bablitz will take over the head coaching duties starting today.

Bablitz played two seasons with the Storm from 1997-99 and was chosen AJHL Rookie of the Year in his first season. He scored 156 points in his two years with the team and still sits 11th in career points with the franchise.

In 2007, he was hired as the first ever full-time assistant coach with the Storm by Vandekamp. During their four seasons together they put together the best winning percentage of any group of coaches in the team’s history. In 242 regular-season games the pair had a .674 win percentage and also won 27 of 45 playoff games in four seasons.

They helped the Storm to the 2008-2009 AJHL championship and finished second in the North Division three times during their coaching partnership.

“I’m very thankful and extremely excited about the opportunity that the organization is offering me,” said Bablitz. “They’ve come to terms with giving me the chance to prove myself in this position, and I look to continue the success of the team on the ice and within the community of Grande Prairie.

“Not only are we here to be a competitive and successful team, but we’re here to be a part of the community and do our best to affect the youth in it and be a positive influence on everyone in the town.”

Bablitz will have his work cut out for him, as the Storm will lose last year’s leading scorer and reigning AJHL Player of the Year, Tanner Fritz. However, Bablitz has already given thought to what sort of team he hopes to build.

“Our team will be hard working and aggressive and puck pursuit-orientated, which is not too far away from the lines of the team we’ve been in the past,” said Bablitz.

“It will be organized and technically sound. Hard work will be the main focus, (because) that’s the key to junior level hockey.”

The team officially introduced Bablitz as the new head coach at a press conference this morning at the Crystal Centre.

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