2022 St. Catharines Sportsperson of the Year Tyler Bielby
The 2022 St. Catharines Sportsperson of the Year can trace his coaching roots back to a September day at the Welland Food Festival.
Tyler Bielby, the bench boss of the 2021-22 Sutherland Cup champion St. Catharines Falcons hockey team, had just finished his career with the Dunnville Terriers junior C hockey club.
“It was the first year that I didn’t have a dressing room to report to and I watched a young team walk by wearing their tracks suits,” the 40-year-old Welland native said. “The next day, I made a few phone calls to some friends and they told me there was a guy looking for some support at the triple A peewee age group so I joined as an assistant with Steve Cote.”
From there, the Centennial grad went on to coach with Tim Welychka, his former coach and a family friend, with the Welland Tigers bantam AAA squad.
“I spent the better part of a decade working in hockey with 13- and 14-year-olds and finished as a head coach at that level.”
He took some time off to focus on work and during that time he was approached by Falcons GM Frank Girhiny to join him as an assistant. Bielby became the video coach on the Falcons squad that won a Sutherland Cup in the 2011-12 season.
He served in that role for three seasons before taking another break to focus again on his career.
“I needed to be there for people at work but fast forward another five years and Frank called me and gave me the opportunity to be a head coach of this team four years ago.”
Bielby’s list of coaching mentors starts with his father, Tom.
“He was never my coach but he was always involved with teams that I was with and I watched from a young age how he handled his business. I still take stuff from him every day, especially emotional intelligence and how you react to things. There is still a lot of work to do there,” he said, with a smile.
His biggest coaching mentors were Welychka and Girhiny.
“Tim was a big part of my life growing up and a big part of why I fell in love with the game. He was the first coach who really gave me an opportunity to be a head coach,” he said. “He stepped aside so I could have a moment as a young guy. That is when I realized it was something I enjoyed doing. I am forever grateful to Tim and he has been giving back to the game for more than 40 years.”
Bielby describes Girhiny as an exceptional hockey mind.
“He is the manager but as a coach I am always picking his brain because he knows the game well,” the Grimsby resident said. “I have learned a ton from him and Rick Girhiny in the last decade.”
The vice-president of sales and general operations at Youngs Insurance Brokers describes his coaching philosophy as being based on building relationships with his players.
‘It’s a catchphrase to be a players’ coach but where I challenge that is that I am very demanding as well. I believe I can be demanding, come down on them and push for exceptionalism because I build those relationships and take the time to show them my human side and get to know them,” he said. “There is a lot that goes on away from the rink that affects the way they play and I make a point to have an understanding of what they are up against outside of the arena. That way, I can help them when they’re here.”
When talking about the 2021-22 Sutherland Cup champions, Bielby pointed to a number of factors that made the team the best in Ontario.
“I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, especially after coming up short this year,” he said. “It was just that perfect year. We were healthy for the most part and we had great character guys. I don’t want to slight the room this year because it was just as strong but there were a couple of extra pieces last year that allowed us to go a little farther.”
Winning a Sutherland Cup is no easy task.
“The first year I joined this organization we won the Sutherland Cup and I have gotten used to that here to a certain extent,” he said. “But that’s what makes St. Catharines so special. It is a winning culture and it is what we drive home to the guys as soon as they walk in here in August or September.”
That being said, you can’t taken winning for granted.
“There are guys in the NHL who go their whole careers without making the playoffs, never mind winning a round,” Bielby said. “I tried to remind the guys this year to stay hungry because you can’t take what happened for granted. It has happened twice in 50 years for a reason. It is a very difficult trophy to win. It’s five best-of-seven series to get there which makes it as hard as any trophy in sports to win.”
Bileby feels the defining moment in the 2021-22 season came when Mason Howard joined the team from the Niagara IceDogs.
“It wasn’t because of what Mason was going to bring us on the ice but you always wonder how guys coming from the OHL are going to act and how that will affect your room,” he said. “Mason is an alpha male and has a big presence. He came in and how he acted left a big impression on that dressing room. He embraced those guys and it wasn’t just him. Our captain, Joe Colasurdo, and Ollie (Olivier Desroches), those guys were very humble and very good young men and the way they treated the young guys was a defining moment.”
Bielby is honoured to be recognized as the 2022 Sportsperson of the Year.
“It is very humbling but at the same time it’s an individual award that I share with the whole team. I can show how and I can give them direction but I can’t put the skates on. I owe all the credit to the young men who put the skates on.”
The Falcons organization isn’t too shabby either.
“It’s a culture. It’s a lot of time spent in the arena in stressful environments. Young guys are going though life, exams or maybe first love breakups and they are at an interesting age,” Bielby said. “It is an accepting organization and we are here for each other. It starts right from the top and goes down to the bottom. It is why we talk about the village so much. We are building a culture of acceptance and inclusivity and players understand that when they are here it is a safe place to be.”