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From Superior to Sudbury, a hockey life well travelled
2023-03-25
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Brian Kuruliak would be hard-pressed to find a time of his life that has not involved hockey – and he is just fine with that.

The 68 year-old native of Red Rock recently recalled, with ease, the days of his youth, the very foundation of his role as a player, a coach and a hockey administrator. And through it all, the father of two would always remain true to himself.

Perhaps that is a bi-product of a journey that starts in a simpler time, with nothing but the love of the game providing the motivation. “All of our minor hockey was up on the north shore of Lake Superior: Manitowadge, Marathon, Terrace Bay,” said Kuruliak. “We were fortunate; we had an indoor rink, Schreiber had an indoor rink.”

“All the way through, we played for fun. People today will talk about scouts, but we had never heard of such a thing – even through to junior. We never paid attention to that stuff. You just played because you wanted to play.”

A member of the Kenora Muskies who toiled in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in his mid-teens, Kuruliak was an honest hockey player – in an era that was so much different than today.

“I played a physical game; let’s put it that way,” he said. “I don’t think I was a fella that went looking for trouble, but I didn’t back away. For whatever reason, I got this reputation as being a tough guy.”

His was a style of play that very much shaped his thoughts as to how the game should be played, philosophies he would pass along to hundreds of young men over the course of some 25 years or so spent behind the bench. Seemingly far more than most, those “who play a physical game” enjoy an incredibly refreshing perspective on the game of hockey – and Kuruliak is no different.

“No matter how tough you are, there is always somebody tougher,” he said. “I gotta say that I gave some, but I got many back – and I feel it today.”

With the Sudbury Wolves and the Port Arthur Marrs clashing in some wild affairs in the early seventies, Kuruliak would be summoned to the nickel city – “somehow, I was told I was coming to Sudbury; how that developed, I don’t know” – but it was the following year in which the 19 year old veteran potted 31 goals and 73 points in just 41 games with the North Bay Trappers (OPJAHL), cracking the league all-star team, that he would find himself drafted by the Kansas City Scouts (9th round – 1974).

“I had not a clue I was getting drafted,” recalled Kuruliak. “I was working shift work in the paper mill and got this phone call. The guy tells me I’ve been drafted by Kansas City, but don’t worry – there was a deal worked out at the draft and I’ve been traded to Toronto.”

Kuruliak would play less than one season with the Oklahoma City Blazers (CHL), a Toronto-affiliate at the time that featured the likes of Jack Valiquette, Pat Boutette, Tiger Williams and Mike Palmateer.

Within a year, he was back in Sudbury, ultimately meeting the love of his life (Wendy), beginning both full-time employment at Inco all while not straying far at all from the sport that he loved.

“Because I was a third or fourth line player and didn’t see many shifts some time, I believed in fair ice time (as a coach),” Kuruliak said. “Not equal ice time, but fair ice time with all of the kids – whether they were ten years old or 16 years old.”

And at a time that body checking was an integral part of the game at a far younger age than it is today, Kuruliak was adamant that the ultimate goal of a solid check was to secure possession of the puck – a feat that could sometimes be accomplished every bit as effectively by merely understanding good body positioning.

“We practiced taking people out, but we didn’t run them through the boards,” he said. “We tried to show them the proper way to take people out of the play, without taking a penalty.”

To this day, he can hearken back to a meeting with Maple Leafs brass, one held at the time of his contract signing, a discussion in which Toronto management stressed that the player who consistently registered the most hits on their team was none other than Davey Keon, a two-time Lady Byng winner.

“I’ve told that story to a lot of people.”

Bucking the standard trend in minor hockey circles, Kuruliak coached for a quarter century or so, but never for the teams on which his sons Brad or Jordan would play. “I always felt comfortable with who they were with - and I had my own teams,” he said.

Over time, he would add administrative duties to his plate, most often as a divisional convenor for the Nickel District Hockey League, alongside friends and co-horts Raymond Gagnon, Joe McColeman and others.

Where some might miss being right in the thick of the action, Kuruliak found joy developing others. “I got involved with the kids and really enjoyed it,” he said. “I didn’t miss playing.”

And as long as hockey was part of the mix, all was quite good.

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