Longtime hockey coach loses battle with cancer
Art Krusel was a hockey person. That’s how many of his colleagues and players describe him. The former Airdrie Thunder coach died Aug. 17 after a battle with cancer at the age of 61.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Krusel grew up around the game of hockey. As a player, he played minor pro, spending time in the American Hockey League and in the New York Islanders system. During a brief hiatus from hockey, Krusel was a semi-pro golfer before returning to the rink as a coach.
After coaching with the Junior A Calgary Royals and with the Calgary Canucks, Krusel took over as the head coach of the Airdrie Thunder in 2002.
In his ten-year tenure with the Thunder, the team had seven straight winning seasons and won four divisional titles in 2005 and from 2007 to 2009. However, halfway through the 2011-2012 season, Krusel’s declining health forced him to step down from the bench for a final time.
“He was a good hockey player,” said Thunder General Manager Frank McEvoy. “He was a very sharp and intelligent person. Sports were always on his mind and he wanted to coach. He was a coach at heart and he was devastated that he couldn’t continue on.”
A fixture behind the Thunder bench for nearly a decade, Krusel was well-liked by the hundreds of players who passed through the organization. McEvoy said Krusel was an excellent communicator who worked to bring out the best in a player and treated them like his own children.
“He even cut players with such class no matter the circumstances,” McEvoy said. “He treated them with the utmost respect. He loved hockey, he loved coaching and he loved making players better.”
McEvoy said he could count only two occasions where Krusel raised his voice in the dressing room. The rest of the time he was calm and even keeled, but he also knew what he wanted and needed to get out of the players to have a successful team.
For Dylan Johnston, who played two years under Krusel, he was a strict, old-school coach, but a pleasure to play for.
“The first time I shook his hand, he told me I shook hands like a girl, but that I was all right,” Johnston remembers.
“He was a very good coach. He was very friendly and always had a big smile on his face. He was a very sweet man.”
Krusel loved teaching the game to his players, but his lessons and legacy have extended to many off the ice, including those who stood next to him on the bench over the course of his career with the Thunder.
Gareth Barley spent two years as Krusel’s assistant coach and Barley said he was as much a hockey fan as he was a coach.
“He’s a hockey person,” Barley said. “He’s a person who was around the game his whole life. You could talk hockey with him all day. Even if you didn’t know him, that was your common ground with him. I can’t remember one person who loved the game more.
“If you had time, he’d talk hockey with you. He was a very solid and stoic person and very easy to approach once you got to know him. He could be hard on his players, but he was always trying to make them better.”
Krusel is survived by his common-law wife Bobbi Gardiner.