By Cam Tait, Edmonton Journal
On the morning of the RBC Cup gold-medal game in 2003, Camrose Kodiaks coach Boris Rybalka received news that changed his life. His wife, Roxy, was pregnant with their daughter, McKenna.
Later that day, in Charlottetown, P.E.I., Rybalka saw his team lose 3-1 the final to the Humboldt Broncos. He uses one word to describe his experience in the RBC Cup that spring -family.
Now, seven seasons later, he’s sharing the national Junior A hockey championship with family.
On several levels.
Rybalka is making his sixth appearance in the RBC Cup, starting Saturday night in his own backyard of Camrose. Roxy and McKenna, now seven, will be a five-minute drive from the Edgeworth Centre.
His parents are making the drive in from Saskatchewan on Friday.
“That means a lot to me because Mom and Dad don’t travel a lot these days,” Rybalka said Tuesday in a quiet press box, looking down on the ice surface.
He will have his community family, the city of Camrose and its surrounding area.
And another family unit.
“I am very lucky,” Rybalka says. “Not many men can say they have 26 sons. But I can.”
He is, of course, talking about the Kodiaks, the RBC Cup host team Sam Jardine, 17, says Rybalka is like a father to all of the Kodiaks.
“There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for this team,” the Kodiak D-man says. “He just cares so much.”
So do his players. And Rybalka says he saw that sentiment when the Kodiaks were beaten in Game 5 the Alberta Junior Hockey League championship series by the Spruce Grove Saints.
“I looked around the room after we lost and half the team was crying, and, to me, that was a good thing,” says Rybalka. “They were crying for each other. And I think that’s what builds champions.”
Rather than advancing to the Doyle Cup against the defending RBC champion Vernon Vipers, Rybalka gave his team 15 days off.
After letting some injuries heal, the Kodiaks returned to two-a-day practices, in preparation for Saturday’s game against the Vipers.
Rybalka often talks about pride and accomplishment.
“My parents always taught me I can do anything I want no matter what anyone says.”
The Kodiaks, again, find themselves as underdogs, much like their AJHL season. After a thirdplace finish in the South Division, they weren’t expected to go far in the playoffs.
Instead, they fought back from 3-1 series deficits to beat the Okotoks Oilers and Brooks Bandits.
Rybalka is focusing the task at hand: winning his second RBC Cup championship in front of a home crowd.
When the event is over May 8 he will look at his future.
“That’s a good question, in all honesty,”says Rybalka, 44.
“I have always thought it would be good to coach pro but we’ll wait and see.”
He could, perhaps, just slide into the Kodiaks’ GM job and not coach.
Or leave Camrose altogether. “We’ll sit down as a family after the season and decide what the best thing is for our family,” he says.
“My daughter will have a big say in what we do, like she always does.”
Indeed, family first in the Rybalka household.