The Dalhousie, N.B., native and Stratford resident starts his first season with HC Dinamo Minsk of the KHL tonight when it hosts Jokerit.
“Navigating through a regular KHL season is a challenge, let alone this year with the added time off with the Olympic break,” Dwyer said Tuesday. “We have a really condensed schedule.”
It will see Dinamo play eight games in the first 17 days and play 16 times before the end of September.
“That's a lot of hockey here to start the season,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer started his coaching career with the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime junior A hockey league before four seasons with the P.E.I. Rocket/Charlottetown Islanders major junior organization.
He coached in the KHL the past two seasons with HC Medvescak in Croatia but signed with the Minsk, Belarus, squad in June.
“It’s a wonderful city. It’s a great place to play. We have great facilities in Minsk. The fans are great,” Dwyer said, noting they average 14,000 fans per game.
“It’s a well-respected, well-known organization in the KHL.”
Dwyer, 39, coached with Ambri-Piotta at the end of last season and helped them avoid relegation from Switzerland’s top league. He was also part of Canada’s victorious Spengler Cup squad.
HC Dinamo Minsk is mainly comprised of Belarusian players, and Dwyer has a role in helping to develop players and coaches from the country.
Some of Minsk’s top Belarus players are Alexander Pavlovich, Evgeny Kovyrshin and Alexander Materukhim.
There are also some familiar names on the roster, who have played in the NHL or are from North America.
They include goalie Jhonas Enroth, former P.E.I. Rocket defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani and Canadian forwards Rob Klinkhammer, Quinton Howden and Justin Fontain.
“He’s coming in as a top player and a top goaltender for us in a real key position, so he’s certainly going to play a big part,” Dwyer said of Enroth, who played six games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.
“Marc-Andre Gragnani is a leading offensive defenceman and a real power-play specialist,” Dwyer said. “He speaks highly of his time in P.E.I. and so do I, so it’s nice to have that connection.”
The KHL provides teams with the opportunity to dress two more players if they are 19 and 20 years old. Misk has Dmitry Buinitsky, 20, and Yegor Sharangovich, 19. Buinitsky played with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season.
Dwyer said as a younger coach the experience he is gaining is great to grow professionally and personally and he is motivated to continue to get better.
“I have aspirations, like every coach, to coach in the National Hockey League one day, but I’m certainly willing to take it one step at a time,” he said. “I think my time over here in the KHL has been very rewarding and it continues to be.”
Dwyer’s wife Louise and their three sons, Jack, 12, Ryan, 10, and seven-year-old Sean, are in Minsk. The three boys had the opportunity to take part in a Belarus hockey school last year. They will soon come home to Stratford and prepare for their fall.
A look at Gordie Dwyer’s coaching record:
Season Team, league W L OTL
2016-17 Zagreb, KHL 23 30 3
2015-16 Zagreb, KHL 25 26 9
2014-15 Charlottetown, QMJHL 35 28 5
2013-14 Charlottetown, QMJHL 21 39 8
2012-13 P.E.I., QMJHL 41 23 4
2011-12 P.E.I., QMJHL 19 43 6