Ex-DU coach Gwozdecky comes home, takes job at Valor Christian
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George Gwozdecky had no idea what was next for him.
He had just finished his second season as an assistant coach for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning after making it to the Stanley Cup Finals and losing to the Chicago Blackhawks and the only certainty was that he was not returning to Tampa Bay.
Gwozdecky and his wife, Bonnie, returned to Denver in late June with no direction as to where he was going to be coaching, if at all.
He thought of taking a year off and even looking around the NHL at other positions that would’ve intrigued him, but then he thought back to a conversation with an old assistant of his from the University of Denver, where he coached from 1994-2013. Steve Miller, who had been a part of the coaching staff for Providence College, the 2015 NCAA champions, decided he wasn’t returning to the Friars.
Miller had reached out to Jamie Heiner, the athletic director at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, a school that only opened in 2007. Heiner expressed interest in Miller for the Eagles’ hockey coaching vacancy. Eventually, Miller chose another route and the Eagles were still without a coach.
With Gwozdecky now with no direction, he then contacted Heiner only to see if the AD needed help finding a candidate.
“I reached out just to inquire if he needed any help in selecting or looking at names,” Gwozdecky said. “Having been in this community for 19 years, I knew quite a few people, especially the hockey people.”
Heiner didn’t call Gwozdecky back right away. In fact, there was no response for a week. Gwozdecky merely took it as a sign that Valor had found their man and Gwozdecky’s services weren’t needed.
But then the phone rang and when Gwozdecky picked up, it was Heiner on the other end, returning the phone call after being on vacation. It turns out that he did indeed want Gwozdecky’s thoughts and help on the matter at hand.
“Our first meeting was in his office and we sat and talked for about an hour and a half,” Gwozdecky said. “At that point, I became very intrigued – not only with the short-term plan – but with the overall atmosphere surrounding Valor as a school. That’s where it all started.”
Heiner and Gwozdecky continued to talk for the following month. The opportunity seemed to fit both for Gwozdecky and for Valor Christian and with that, an offer was made.
After hearing Heiner’s pitch for everything, there was no way Gwozdecky could turn down the offer. The former head coach who guided DU to two straight NCAA championships in 2004 and 2005 was a head coach once again.
The prospect of once again coaching in the Rocky Mountains was a welcome prospect for Gwozdecky as his family has grown to love the area.
“Colorado is home to us,” he said. “Other than the University of Denver, I didn’t think anything would develop (in Colorado) that would be a good fit for me, to be honest with you.”
Not only was Valor Christian the ideal situation for Gwozdecky and his family for being able to get back home, but it also helps him to get back to a certain level of coaching that he enjoys.
“I really enjoyed my time and my experience in the National Hockey League,” Gwozdecky said. “The opportunity to be able to help mentor student-athletes is something I’ve been doing for 30-plus years. You have far less of an impact and far less opportunity to do that in the National Hockey League.”
The Eagles went 3-15 last season and the addition of Gwozdecky hopes to provide the upward swing that Valor aspires to have on the ice.
— Daniel Mohrmann