The Merritt Centen-nials hockey club announced on July 10 that it has hired Matt Samson from Squamish as the team’s new assistant coach. Samson assumes the position formally held by Joe Martin, who has moved up to the role of head coach and GM with the Cents following the departure of Luke Pierce to the WHL’s Kootenay Ice.

Samson, 35, is the former head coach and GM of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League’s North Vancouver Wolfpack. This past year, the Wolfpack went 32-9-1-2 in the regular season and 12-3 in the playoffs to win the PIJHL championship for the first time.

“Over the last few years, I’ve worked with Matt on up-and-coming players for our team,” Martin said. “Matt has always worked well with us, and we look forward to bringing him here and getting started on the upcoming season.”

For his part, Samson said that he is excited to be joining a great organization like the Centennials and getting the opportunity to coach in the BCHL.

“Over the past few years in North Vancouver, I have had a great relationship with Luke and Joe. This gave me a strong interest in keeping track of the [Centennials] and the team’s progress under their guidance. After having a couple of really good conversations with Joe and travelling up to Merritt, I knew that this was an organization I wanted to be part of. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”

Samson was born in Winnipeg, but moved to North Vancouver at the age of seven. He played all his minor hockey in North Van before spending two years in the PIJHL with the Richmond Sockeyes and the Delta Ice Hawks.

His success in junior hockey led to an NCAA Div. 3 scholarship, first to Concordia College in Minnesota and then to Buffalo State University in New York. Samson graduated from Buffalo State in 2005 with a degree in communications.

After returning to North Vancouver and coaching a couple of seasons in minor hockey and with the WHA, Samson partnered with his dad to apply for a PIJHL franchise in Squamish.

The Wolfpack lasted three seasons in Squamish before making the move to North Vancouver.

“Squamish is a good hockey market, but it was tough the way the league was set up to recruit players,” Samson said. “It would probably fit better in the KIJHL, where the players are used to traveling and billeting. The PIJHL is more of a commuter league.”

The first years of the Wolfpack did produce former Centennial Brandon Pfeil, who enjoyed two excellent seasons with Merritt before earning an Ivy League scholarship to Brown University.

“That was when I first met Luke,” Samson said. “We kept in touch because of Brandon, and then I started attending his camps in Abbotsford. It was definitely great to establish a relationship with Luke and later with Joe.”

During his time with the Wolfpack, Samson has had the pleasure of coaching a number of notable players, including Malcolm Gould, the older brother of current Centennial Gavin Gould.

“Malcolm played with us the second year in Squamish,” Samson said. “We also recruited Gavin, but he made the jump straight to Merritt as a 17-year-old which was too bad for us.”

Samson also coached the sons of a couple of former Vancouver Canucks — Ty and Jared Babych along with Taylor Tanti.

“Ty was just a 16-year-old. He won rookie-of-the-year. After, he went on to play three seasons with the Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL.”

Asked about his coaching philosophy, Samson said, “I feel that I am a good communicator with my players, and that I can push the right buttons in order to get the most out of them. I like to see my teams work hard every night, with every player on the same page working towards a common goal.

“I’m looking forward to the next challenge at the BCHL level. My family is excited about the move. We know how much the community supports the team and is behind them.”

Samson is married. He and his wife, Erin, have a one-year-old daughter, Sydney.