Taking Note was told Sunday morning that the Kootenay Ice has dismissed assistant coach Roman Vopat, apparently over his criticism, via Twitter, of Tim Hunter’s work as head coach of Canada’s national junior team.
Another source familiar with the situation told Taking Note that “apparently they let him go on Friday.”
When contacted by Taking Note, Vopat, a former NHL and WHL player, responded: “I can’t confirm or deny. I will not make further comments.”
Matt Cockell, the Ice’s general manager, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Ice’s website no longer includes Vopat’s photo and bio on the Hockey Operations page.
Vopat was listed as an assistant coach on the Ice’s lineup sheet prior to a game against the visiting Victoria Royals on Dec. 31. However, it wasn’t there prior to Friday’s game against the Tigers in Medicine Hat.
Hunter, of course, also is the head coach of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors.
On Wednesday, after Canada had lost 2-1 in OT to Finland in a quarterfinal game at the World Junior Championship in Vancouver, someone on Twitter suggested “you have to feel for the kids. They deserve a much better fate!”
Vopat responded: “I feel for them but you don’t deserve a thing in sport — earn it!!! Out-coached!!”
Also on Wednesday, after Canada’s captain, Max Comtois, was unsuccessful on a penalty shot in overtime, Vopat tweeted: “He isn’t the natural goal scorer like Glass, Leason, Frost or Tippett so (to) put him in that situation was a bad move by Hunter.”
Vopat also was critical of Hunter, who chose not to respond early in the tournament after Comtois came under fire for diving during games.
Hunter had been critical of F Alexis Lafrenière for some uninspired play, but said he wouldn’t address the diving situation with Comtois.
Vopat tweeted: “You know my problem I have with all this — he challenged 17-year-old on national tv, paper and social media about not performing but he doesn’t have the guts to call out his captain on diving all over the place.”
Vopat, 42, is a native of Litvinov, Czech Republic. He played in the WHL (1994-96) with the Moose Jaw Warriors and Prince Albert Raiders. His professional playing career included 133 games in the NHL, split between the St. Louis Blues, who selected him in the seventh round of the NHL’s 1994 draft, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks.
He retired after spending 12 seasons in Europe, the last one in 2010-11.
Vopat was in his fifth season as a WHL assistant coach. He was with the Prince George Cougars for two seasons (2014-16). This was his third season with the Ice.
Vopat was one of four coaches working alongside Ice head coach James Patrick. Jon Klemm is the team’s associate coach, with Gord Burnett the remaining assistant coach, and Nathan Lieuwen the video coach and goaltending consultant.
The Ice (8-27-7) has the second-poorest record in the 22-team WHL. After losing 6-0 to the visiting Vancouver Giants on Sunday, the Ice is four points ahead of the Swift Current Broncos (8-28-3), who hold three games in hand.
The Ice will miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season amid all kinds of speculation that the franchise will relocate to Winnipeg at season’s end.
Last season, its first under the ownership of Winnipeggers Greg Fettes and Cockell, the Ice finished 27-38-7.