Kraus earning coach credentials
Kevin Kraus has a knack for thriving in unfamiliar situations.
An American roller hockey player until he was 14, Kraus made a (relatively) seamless transition to ice skates, adjusted to life in Canada, and glided to a pair of RBC Cup national Junior A titles with the Vernon Vipers, one as captain.
“I went public skating once or twice (before taking up hockey in second-year Bantam),” shrugged the laid back Kraus. “The nice thing was at least I knew the game.
Kraus still gets mocked for his unorthodox skating style, and says it wasn’t until the WHL Tri-City Americans brought in a power skating instructor that he really started to get a feel for the ice.
“It must have taken me a year-and-a-half to be totally comfortable. Even when I was playing Junior I was still learning different techniques.”
The Garden Grove, Calif. native is once again in foreign territory, this time as head coach of the Kootenay International Hockey League’s Revelstoke Grizzlies.
After taking a crash course as an assistant under Randy Quakenbush last year, Kraus, 23, had the head coaching job land in his lap in the off-season. He is also the GM, equipment manager, and he even put his home ec. skills to use in redesigning the team jerseys this summer.
“The first three months I was learning something new every day,” said Kraus, a former d-man.
“It’s something that, as a player, you don’t understand. You can see the coaching part, but it’s the behind-the-scenes part – planning practices, planning road trips.
“We don’t have an equipment manager, so I have to order the tape and the sticks and the equipment and the jerseys.”
Kraus played parts of two seasons with the WHL Kamloops Blazers and Tri-City before landing in the Viper den. After an abbreviated minor pro career – he had cups of coffee with the Fort Worth Brahmas (CHL) and Pensacola Ice Flyers (SPHL) in 2010-11 – Kraus thought he his hockey days were behind him.
“I didn’t have the greatest experience with pro hockey; it just really turned me off hockey a lot,” said Kraus, who then enrolled in a machine operators course.
“I thought that’s what I’d be doing the rest of my life. About six months later, you get that itch; you miss hockey.”
That’s when the Revelstoke assistant coach gig surfaced.
“It’s kind of surreal to be in this position at my age,” he said. “I’m just taking it all in stride and soaking everything up like a sponge.”
Kraus says the Grizzlies boast a solid top-six, a shutdown third line and a fourth line of up-and-comers, but adds he molded his team around the Vernon netminding duo of Aaron Brandoli and Conrad MacMillan. Other local products in Revelstoke include forward Devon Hascarl and d-man Aaron Benjaminsen.
The Grizz currently occupy third place in the Doug Birks Division at 16-12-3-1.
“I’ve kind of built my team from the back end up,” said Kraus. “My team seems to be getting better and hopefully we can peak at the right time and hit playoffs on a roll.”
Hascarl, who was recently carded full-time by the BCHL’s West Kelowna Warriors, empathizes with Kraus’s situation as a rookie head coach.
“I remember just a couple years ago watching him here in Vernon,” said Hascarl, a 19-year-old who had 5-7-12 in 18 games with the Grizz.
“He’s a player (and coach) at the same time. He’s been there, he’s got a lot of experience.
“A lot of people were probably wondering – a young guy coaching a Junior B team. That’s a lot of pressure, but I think so far people are happy. They’re thinking he can pull it off and he’s the right guy for the position.”
Kraus, supported by assistants Darren Komonoski and Greg Austin, has learned a lot about patience standing behind the bench. Having played at a high level not that long ago, he understands what his players are going through, but he still reign himself in from making snap judgements.
“From the bench, things look so easy. It’s different when you’re on the ice and reacting in a split second,” said Kraus, who as a player, always exuded a calm, and somewhat irritating, cockiness.
“I see what needs to be done so I’m always trying to simplify things so they can understand what they can do better next time.
“But ya, you definitely get the itch to strap the pads on again.”
Kraus has also been able to turn to the Junior coaching fraternity for advice. Among his mentors are former and current Viper coaches Mark Ferner and Jason Williamson, Rylan Ferster of the West Kelowna Warriors and Troy Mick of the Salmon Arm SilverBacks.
“I’m always leaning on the guys that I trust and always ask them for advice,” he said. “It’s always nice to bounce ideas off those guys that have been around the game for a while.”
And just like when he was a rookie on the blueline, Kraus says he is having to earn credibility all over again as a coach. Probably more so because he is so young.
Game by game, he feels more comfortable wearing a suit and tie behind the bench.
“I’m starting to earn respect from coaches from around the league,” he said. “As a 23-year-old head coach, a lot of people didn’t take me seriously at first.”