Legendary Vikings coach gets hall of fame call
Joe Voytechek was honoured for his Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference hall of fame induction as a coach at the University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings Colour night in Camrose on April 13. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian
Joe Voytechek is a man who never took anything for granted.
It was a mentality that he took into his coaching style, demanding hard work and accountability from his players on and off the ice.
The results were the first ever Canadian Colligate Athletic Association national championship banner for hockey was raised in the rafters of then Camrose Lutheran College’s gym in 1975.
On May 13 he will be inducted into the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference in the coach category, and he was honoured by the University of Alberta-Augustana at their annual Colour Night on April 13 at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre.
“I had an opportunity to do what I really, really liked and I don’t think I was too bad at it,” said Voytechek, 94, who was welcomed there by several members of the championship team.
The Vikings were long shots to win the national championship in 1975. They were representing a college of just 390 students in a small rural town in the middle of almost nowhere Alberta and had the youngest team at the championship tournament with their oldest players 19 years old. Voytechek, however, made it clear there was only one result he would accept when they came together for training camp: Gold.
In the end, they travelled all the way to Sidney, N.S. to beat the Saint Claire Saints out of Ontario 6-2.
Instead of a hero’s welcome home, his wife Phyllis made sure he remained grounded and reminded him of how it happened.
“She said ‘Well you were lucky.’ ‘Lucky? What do you mean lucky?’ And she said, ‘Well you were, you had a bunch of real young athletes that worked hard, and they did it,’” he said. “And she was right, they did it.”
Voytechek coached the club for nine seasons from 1973-1981 and then coached the Camrose Maroons junior B hockey team for three years after that.
It is almost by fluke he ended up in Camrose.
Born in Mountain Park north of Edson in 1923, he was a fast rising prospect in the minor hockey and baseball world. He had the attention of the Montreal Canadiens and was preparing to make that jump while working the coal mines as a pipefitter during the summer.
Then in 1939 the second world war broke out and his career trajectory completely changed. He did not fight in the war but was told by the armed forces he was needed to mine coal for the war effort.
By the time the war ended, his pro hockey prospects had dried up. He did spend some time playing junior hockey in Edmonton before the war for the Canadian Athletic Club. In the mid 40s he came down to Camrose to watch a friend, Pete Elock, play for the Maroons. It turned out they were short on players. His friend pointed him out to the coach and he threw on a borrowed set of skates and jumped on the ice. He never left the Rose City again.
To make ends meet he worked as a plumber, getting hired on by Jim Findlatter. Shortly after that he went out on his own and got from job to job on his feet. It didn’t take long for a client, Dr. John Young, to watch him labour around the city and give him an old pickup truck. When that truck broke down, he was given a deal on a new truck. The generosity helped him establish himself in the city.
“I owe something to the public,” said Voytechek.
In 1948 he met his future wife and they married later that year. They met while Phyllis was a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital and was patching him up after an on-ice injury landed him in the infirmary. When he saw her, he told her he was going to marry her. Though she rebuffed him at first, he later won her over.
They have six kids — Weston, Mike, Jim, Charlotte, Marlene and Patricia — 16 grand kids and six great grand kids.
In his final season with the Vikings he took the team on a trip to Czechoslovakia where his parents were originally from. That trip led to the start of the Viking Cup which lasted in Camrose for 25 years.
When he parted ways with the college, Voytechek decided he needed to spend more time with his growing family. But they stayed very involved in the community. Phyllis was involved with brownies and guides for years while Voytechek spent the next 12 years with the Knights of Columbus gun club, running programs for youths as well as safety courses. He also coached baseball in the city and spent two terms on city council.
As with everything he did, he preached respect and responsibility with the kids he worked with.
“It was three nights a week and I think there all in all I had maybe 100 kids who were off the street nearly one night a week,” he said.
Voytechek was the first ACAC coach to reach 200 games and the second to hit 100 wins.
In 2009 he was named to the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame and the Vikings hockey team hands out an award in his honour every year to the player who demonstrates hard work and perseverance.
Voytechek is going into the hall of fame along with Yvonne Becker from Augustana in the builders category, and seven other inductees.