Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

The likes of Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper, Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour and many others have all waved the Notre Dame flag in the coaching ranks proudly for years at the top of the game. 

Now it is time for Hound Dion Antisin to take more steps in their direction. 

A Kelowna native, Dion spent five years at Notre Dame between 2010 and 2015 as a student and player, and when his college and pro playing career was done in 2019, he returned to Wilcox to coach and run skills in various capacities before assisting Brett Pilkington with the Junior A Hounds in 2022-23. 

Antisin has left his spot at the College and has accepted the head coaching position of the Bodens HF Under-20 club in northeastern Sweden. 

The Kelowna native feels a move across the pond is a natural move for his career.

“It has been a goal of mine for a long time to get back over there,” says Antisin, who spent two seasons playing professionally in the Swiss system, “so to get this opportunity is great.

“Most of my family on my father’s side still lives in Switzerland, so I’m very excited to connect with them if I get a chance to go back there and see friends I grew up with. It is a different world over there, so super cool, super excited to soak up this experience.”

Notre Dame has long been a place where student-athletes have sought to come to develop and prepare for higher levels as players, but the new director of hockey Dave Struch understands that the legacy and future of the college is a place where all who come to work leave in a better spot than they came. 

“That’s the next evolution of Notre Dame,” Struch says.

“Right from Day 1 (of Dave taking the job this summer), I was hoping we could take the direction of developing, mentoring, collaborating and working together, not just for the development of young people, but for everyone there. We want to be a place where student-athletes want to come, and we want to be a place where coaches and teachers want to come, so this is good for Dion. I think he has been here as a player and coach for a lot of years, so we can take and learn from him and his experience. It’s exciting for ND, and more importantly, it’s exciting for Dion and his future.”

Still only 29, Dion assisted with the U15 prep team in 2019-20 and then went on to be the head coach of the U17s in ‘20-21, and the U18 Prep team in the Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL) in ‘21-22.

Not only did he gather the experience of running his own ships those two years, when Junior A Hounds bench boss Pilkington became involved with Team Saskatchewan, including at the 2023 Canada Winter Games, it meant Antisin was allowed to take the reins of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League club at numerous times throughout this past season.

Armed with those experiences, and countless hours of questions asked to Coach Brett and the numerous other seasoned coaches around the college, Dion feels ready to run his own show.

“(Notre Dame) is such a great place to be as a young coach with so many teams, so many coaches I got to learn a lot,” he says.

“The best things I learned were finding players’ character, and seeing how each team and coach develops habits. Brett and I really emphasized that with our players last year, in terms of habits and how you have to be as a player and person. Those are the big things you have to instill in your team to get great results, these are synonymous with ND, I’ll be using as many of those sources (of knowledge) as I can to get into my players in Sweden.”

“It will be interesting running my own ship,” he adds.

“I have to figure out my season plan before I get over there, but I feel confident, very comfortable in this position having a little bit of experience to back it up.”

Ever the hard worker, Antisin plans on learning as much Swedish as he can before and during the move, even though he has been assured by Boden’s youth hockey supervisor Christoffer Jönsson that most of the players and staff speak English, almost all understand it.

And with his personal European experience, and the fact that Notre Dame teams practice and play on international-sized ice at the Duncan McNeill Arena, Antisin feels ready to learn the Swedish hockey language as well.

While he claims he is not nervous, he also plans to continue to seek information and advice from Pilkington, whom Antisin clearly feels a debt of gratitude towards for the intensive work and relationship the two built together this past season.

“The biggest advice I’ve given him is to ask questions,” Brett says,

“We are moving on from each other, but at the same time I’m always just a phone call away, and everything that I’ve learned and implemented over my time coaching is at his disposal. The biggest thing is that as a coach you need to lean on the people that are willing to help you. I think that as this year goes on, I can see myself and Dion talking quite a bit, to help each other out. It won’t be a one-way street at all either, I plan on picking his brain too from the Swedish and European side to see how we can implement them into our program here.”

Ultimately, and Antisin agreed, there are mixed emotions to see such a great, talented, high character and energetic mind move on, but the emphasis for all at the college is on the ‘sweet’ end of that equation.

“(The Junior Hounds) program is not about me,” Brett says, “It’s about the players and the people involved in it. It is bittersweet to see Dion move on where I have to find a new assistant coach that wants to follow in his footsteps, who wants to develop and get the most out of the game, just like I definitely still want to.

“But to see a coach move through this program, to get an opportunity overseas is fantastic,” Brett adds,  “and I hope the next guy coming in has the same goals as Dion, and that I can help that person in every way to make his dream come true as well.”