Bob Trobak is a bit like a superhero.
He doesn’t leap over tall buildings or run at the speed of light. He doesn’t even fight crime. But he has been known to pose as a mild-mannered accountant by day, only showing his true identity as a hockey coach after he leaves the office.
“I moved to Fort St. John in 1968,” Trobak said from the familiar environs of the North Peace Arena on a crisp Fort St. John winter morning.
“I was here for two days,” he continued, “and George Soule conned me into becoming a director for the junior team, which was the Golden Hawks at that time.”
That was just the beginning.
Now, after over 25 years of coaching little kids just starting their hockey careers, and over ten years as commissioner of the North West Junior Hockey League (NWJHL), the league has chosen to honour him with their Presidents Award.
“I don’t do these things for the possibility of being awarded or rewarded,” said Trobak. “So, it’s always gratifying when your efforts are recognized”
The award was presented during Bob Trobak Night at the Fort St. John Huskies game at the North Peace Arena on Saturday, Nov. 24.
“Well, that’s what they called it,” Trobak said with a modest laugh.
“It was just an award from the league to me for my time as commissioner,” he added.
“I’ve known [NWJHL President] Al Spence for years. And, in fact, I coached his son when he was first starting hockey. … And he thought it would be kind of neat to let other organizations I’m connected with know that the league was awarding me. And it just sort of carried on from there.”
During his many years in Fort St. John, Trobak has not only been a hockey coach and commissioner, but also a member of the Kinsmen Club and the Fort St. John Petroleum Association, commonly known as the Oilmen.
“Very few people can make a difference on their own,” said Trobak.
“But when you join with a group of others,” he continued, “whether it’s Oilmen or Kinsmen or whoever, as a group you can make something positive happen. And that’s what I like about the Oilmen.
“They are very community-minded. Every year, they give thousands of dollars back to the community.”
One of the rules of the Petroleum Association is that an individual has to earn a significant portion of his income from the oil and gas industry to be a regular member.
As an accountant, Trobak didn’t qualify.
“I’ve never been a knife-and-forker,” he said. “So, in order to be able to participate in the organization, I have volunteered for the various committee.”
Trobak has been a fixture on the organizing committee for the annual curling bonspiel for the past dozen years or so.
He has also helped organize the golf tournament.
“I try and participate that way because I can’t participate through the executive level.”
Trobak said coaching minor hockey was a perfect fit for him.
“They have most of their ice time from 3:30 to 5:30 in the afternoons,” he explained. “And with my job as an accountant, I was able to take time off and go down to the arena and play with the kids. And if I had to get some work done, I could go back to the office at night and finish that.
“My job was not a nine-to-fiver where I couldn’t just hang a sign on the door saying, ‘Back at 5:00.’
“I was able to do it. And I obviously enjoyed working with young kids.”
Trobak also enjoys running into his old players as adults.
“Just the fact that they recognize me and come over and say hi and thanks for coaching me – you just can’t put it into words,” he said.
“I coached Dennis Robertson. And he’s now in his second year down in Brown University.”
Trobak usually sees Robertson at the hockey school that his two grandsons attend every summer in Fort St. John.
“Dennis always takes time to come over and say hello and tell me how things are going with his hockey and schooling down east,” he said.
“I was over at the other arena on Saturday. And I walked around behind the players’ box. And this guy came out and he said, ‘Hi. You were my first coach when I first started playing hockey.’ And, obviously, I didn’t recognize him because he’s changed a whole bunch from being an ankle-biter to an adult now coaching his own son.”
Trobak firmly believes that minor hockey builds character.
“Because you’re on a team with other individuals,” he said. “So, you have to learn to get along. And that’s vital throughout life.”
It was always all about the fundamentals for Trobak.
“There’s no magic to it,” he said. “If you got the basics right and you make the experience fun, they could be playing hockey for sixty years after I get through with them.”
The fact that Trobak became so involved in the Fort St. John community is a surely a testament to the quality of not just the man, but the community as well, particularly considering his tale of moving to northeast British Columbia from Prince Alberta, Saskatchewan in 1968.
“They weren’t interested in opening up to outsiders,” Trobak said of Prince Albert.
“And we found it a very difficult time,” he continued. “Was a little easier for me because I go to work every day, but it was really hard on my wife. So, when we had the opportunity to move to Fort St. John, we came down here to have a look at the city.
“They hosted a party for us the night we got in. And two different people took us for rides around the community to show us various things about the community. They had a party for us the next night we were in town.
‘We probably met more people in Fort St. John on the weekend we were here than we did in Prince Albert in the year and a half we lived there. It was just such a breath of fresh air.”
It is his home now.
“It’s tough to leave here,” said Trobak.
“I have no plans or intentions of moving away.”