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Pursuit: Climb behind the bench with Wolves AC Rick Dorval

Hired as the assistant coach back in August, Dorval reflects on his hockey career and his dislike of winter
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Rick Dorval, the new assistant coach for the Sudbury Wolves, was born in the Nickel City but raised in the Ottawa area.

Rick Dorval doesn’t even like the cold.

While this might not seem like an absolute prerequisite to the pursuit of coaching hockey as a potential career, one might suggest that it would be a definite consideration.

“It doesn’t take much for me to freeze,” said the 39-year-old the Wolves hired as an assistant coach late in the summer to replace both Zack Stortini and Darryl Moxam behind the bench.

“For whatever reason, I keep coming back to the rink. I hate winter, but I love hockey; I love coaching so much.”

Truth be told, getting behind the bench in Sudbury is a bit of a homecoming for Dorval, who took his first gig as a head coach while still in his mid-20s. He was born in Sudbury, the eldest of two (his sister is a year or so younger), with the entire clan making the move to Ottawa before the kids had even started school.

Dorval’s education in hockey, however, was another matter entirely, first lacing up the skates at just four or five years of age. His playing days would come to an end as his mother battled leukemia, following a CJHL career that spanned more than 200 games. College opportunities south of the border and enquiries from Europe would give way to a full-time job at Canada Post, the priority clearly being to remain near home, with family the No. 1 focus.

Hockey, however, was definitely No. 2 on the list for Rick Dorval.

“I have always been a student of the game,” he said. “There wasn’t a day when I was young when I wasn’t watching two or three hours of hockey. I had two channels on the TV in my room: the French one with the Montreal Canadiens and Global TV with the Leafs.”

Dorval would spend just one year playing with the Carleton Ravens, but it was at the urging of his coach there that he assumed a role in minor hockey working with a new AAA program in Ottawa. With his network of contacts expanding, a quasi-scouting role for a CCHL team would find the up-and-comer in tandem with former Peterborough Petes’ head coach Vince Malette.

“I learned a lot with him that season, before he got really ill,” said Dorval. (Malette is dealing with early on-set Alzheimer’s – his family doing everything in their power to raise awareness of the illness). “When he couldn’t come back, Gloucester offered me the head coaching job.”

While his online coaching records may not be 100-per-cent accurate, by his own admission, a quick scan of the CCHL exploits of Dorval as head coach on HockeyDB presents an impressive record of 228-118-26 compiled from 2012 to 2019. 

Even more impressive, perhaps, is the fact his teams not only always made the playoffs, but that he accomplished all of the above while bringing three different franchises from non-playoff status to post-season play.

“It’s all about work ethic and structure,” Dorval said. “It’s what I expect from players, the way I expect them to come to work every day — that’s what drives the success. Everybody is going to have a bad day where the puck is not going where they need it to be. The one thing that we can’t lack, regardless of the situation, is work ethic.”

Dorval has come a long way in his time behind the bench. He is surely not exactly the same coach today as he was when he only three to four years older than his most experienced players.

“There has been a lot of growth and maturing,” said Dorval. “I was still a kid back then. I wasn’t a father yet. I was still finding a balance between work and life. But I was doing it because I loved it — and it’s a pretty good part-time job to go over and above working at Canada Post.”

Leaving that role behind when he tackled his first assignment as coach and GM with the Hawkesbury Hawks, Dorval is thankful for the chance to be completely immersed in the sport that he loves, with so much of his time directed towards that niche in the sport that suits him so much.

Not that he has forgotten his beginnings.

“The benefit of where I came from is that I was often the only coach on the ice, or you’re only two on the bench instead of three,” he said. “Your brain gets in the habit or working multiple facets of coaching at the same time.”

Not a whole lot of time left for his brain to focus on the cold – and that’s a very good thing. 

Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.