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A Trip Down Memory Lane: Celebrating the Legacy of the Niverville Northstars

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The Niverville Northstars is a name not often recollected in local hockey history, overshadowed by the Clippers, but the Northstars were a force to be reckoned with back in the mid-1980s, and according to many of the team’s former players that success can be largely attributed to the coach, Brian McNaughton.

This winter marks the thirty-fifth anniversary since McNaughton stepped away from coaching the team.

The Northstars started out as a Peewee squad in Niverville in 1983. There were no tryouts or cuts at the time, just a dedicated group of individual players who had signed up for hockey—and over the years they grew into a great team with a reputation for being strong competitors.

Following his coaching tenure with the Northstars, McNaughton eventually moved to Alberta in 1990. But memories of his time in Niverville remained top of mind.

“After I came to Alberta, a guy introduced himself to me and asked if I was the coach of that team from Niverville,” McNaughton says of the team’s legacy. “That guy went on to become the director of scouting for the Chicago Blackhawks and was a part of putting together the Stanley-Cup-winning teams in Chicago. We always talked about that team from Niverville. For years it was his benchmark for a team that competed, a team that played their roles.”

McNaughton has gone on to a long coaching career. In addition to coaching minor hockey, he led university teams and as well as teams in the Western Hockey League. He also spent numerous years involved in the Hockey Alberta Program of Excellence as a coach, instructor, and course conductor.

Since moving to Alberta, his list of accomplishments is long. He made it to four provincial finals with the Val Matteotti Golden Hawks, winning two of them. He then took that same team to the Western Canadian Bantam Championships three times. He has won two Alberta Cups, taken gold for Team Alberta at the Canada Winter Games, and won the 1998 Memorial Cup Championship with the Portland Winter Hawks.

So where does the Niverville Northstars rank among all these successful teams he’s coached?

“Right at the top,” McNaughton says. “That was my entry into coaching. At the time, I did this to give back. I had had a couple of coaches who really influenced me, so I wanted to do the same. But I developed a real passion for coaching young men.”

Many of the young men on his Northstars bench came away from their time on that team with a life-changing perspective.

Notably, they remember his 4D core principles: discipline, determination, desire, and dedication.

“He instilled in me the love of the game, passion, playing as a team and not an individual,” says Dave Unger, captain of the Niverville Northstars. “I think of the 4Ds often and use them in my own coaching. After coaching for a couple of years, I couldn’t help but look back and fully realize how much time, energy, and money Brian spent coaching us. He must have sacrificed a lot back then. I’m just thankful he was a part of my life and my maturing as a young man.”

He’s not the only player with positive memories.

“I learned there were consequences to your actions,” says Chadd Rempel. “If we had a bad game, I knew a bag skate was coming. I never looked at it as punishment; it was done with purpose. Good coaches connect with their players, and I feel that was Coach Brian’s strongest quality. I always knew exactly what he wanted from us.”

Rempell adds that McNaughton had a knack for knowing when a kid needed a hand on his shoulder and when he needed a kick in the butt.

“I was the latter,” Rempel says. “If I were to hire a coach or personal trainer today, I think I would be a little disappointed if they didn’t shout orders at me a bit.”

Other memories include the fact that Northstars played against teams in much larger towns and cities. One example was a game played against the Thompson King Miners.

“I remember at the time that this was one of those games that was as close to a junior hockey game as I could think,” player Jack Carter recalls. “It was a close game, and I am sure it was a thrown-down, finish-your-check, skate-hard-all-the-time kind of game. No one was giving an inch to the other guys.”

Carter remembers that the two teams were evenly matched, aside from the fact that Thompson had a population ten times the size of Niverville to draw from.

“The NorthStars were up a goal with a few miles to go, and I scored on our own net while clearing up a scrum around the crease,” Carter says. “We were tied after giving them a freebee. I felt like I really blew it. But the team rallied around my gaff and while I sat on the bench trying to compose myself, [we] scored the go-ahead and eventual winner.”

Carter further recalls that he won six medals with the team from 1985 to 1992.

Although McNaughton stopped coaching the Northstars in 1987, five players from the team continued to play Eastman AAA and won a provincial championship in 1989. Another legacy of the team is that three players carried on in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and won back-to-back championships with the Winkler Flyers in 1991 and 1992.

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