SAN JOSE, Calif.

Pete DeBoer and Steve Spott aren’t the first Waterloo Region residents to have left home in order to chase the dream in Silicon Valley, and they certainly won’t be the last.

But professional obligations are professional obligations.

DeBoer is the head coach of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and Spott is his assistant. Both, at one time, served as the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. Both say that while their professional lives are now intricately connected to the Bay Area, they’ve left a big part of their hearts in Waterloo Region — forever entwined with the tri-city area by the relationships they formed and the memories they retain.

And they strongly believe any Canadians involved in the tech industry in the Valley can’t go wrong by resettling in the ’Loo.

“I think anybody who takes a job wants to be in a place where their family is going to be happy,” said DeBoer. “I have no doubt that if you plant roots in Kitchener-Waterloo, you’re going to have a great family experience, from your kids’ school and sports, to family values, to the fact you can be in the country in five minutes and still have all the amenities of a big city.

“The list is as long as your arm.

“For me it’s the people. Great quality of life and great people.”

DeBoer and Spott come by their Waterloo Region bona fides honestly. They arrived in the region in 2001, and DeBoer won a Memorial Cup as Rangers head coach in 2003, with Spott as his assistant. When DeBoer left in 2008 to become coach of the Florida Panthers, Spott took over head coaching duties with the Rangers, eventually leaving in 2013 to become coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the top farm club for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Recently, on the morning after the Sharks had vanquished none other than the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 at San Jose’s SAP Center, both coaches sat down with staff from the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation (Waterloo EDC) to talk about their former home and workplace. The night before, the hockey game had served as the drawing card for two events sponsored by Waterloo EDC and GoNorthCanada.ca, each designed to give tech companies and Canadian expat tech personnel based in the Valley the chance to learn about opportunities in Canada.

Both coaches made it clear they don’t need any convincing.

“It was a great experience [living in Waterloo Region], said DeBoer. “Really, it has a little bit of everything. I’ve lived in different places, being a coach in the NHL: Florida, [the] New York area, California, and Waterloo is right up there on my list.”

Adds Spott:

“[Waterloo] was a tremendous opportunity for us professionally, and a real good region to have a family grow up in. The housing, the quality of lifestyle in living in Kitchener-Waterloo was first class. And as Pete said, we’ve been fortunate to see some great places in North America and for me, as well, I’d put Waterloo right up there at the top of my list.”

Both coaches are well aware of the changes the region has undergone since they left, particularly with respect to the evolution and maturity of the tech scene, which, when they arrived in 2001 to take over the Rangers, was in its nascent stages. The co-operative nature of the tech ecosystem was apparent to them even then, and in their minds reflected the values of the larger community.

“We always had great support from the tech industry,” said DeBoer.

“We had a great relationship with RIM and BlackBerry. I remember when we were hosting the Memorial Cup, going around looking for sponsors, and help with sponsors … everybody at BlackBerry was part of that.

“At that time, Waterloo-Kitchener was just becoming the hotbed for tech in Canada. Since then, it’s grown exponentially. Google is there now. Everybody else is looking to move into the area [and] I think [its] because of the resources of the brain power there. Waterloo attracts some of the smartest kids in North America. When you combine that with the area, it’s just a great [place] to be.”

Spott says he was struck by the way the Rangers helped play a role in forging ties in the tech community and the larger community beyond the tech firms.

“That’s something that Pete and I have always taken a lot of pride in, is building teams,” said Spott. “I think for a lot of the entrepreneurs that came into our community, we were able to share ideas with them and talk about building [their] team and [their] staff.

“One thing about that community, everyone gets along and they’re willing to share.”

Both coaches said that when it came time to convince Rangers players and their parents of the merits of the region, Waterloo was an easy sell. The combination of location, schools, community amenities and community vibe made for an attractive package. That same package, they said, makes Waterloo a go-to community for any tech worker in the Valley who is thinking about a return to Canada.

“The opportunities that exist in that community are just tremendous,” said Spott. “Athletically, as Pete said [it’s great], but also within the arts, and some of the other entertainment fields that are out there for young children in the community. It’s amazing how it’s grown.

“And then, [consider] the real estate market. And we’ve looked at that recently. We’ve talked about how it’s such a strong real estate market there, that your investment is going to be protected if you should buy a home in that community. I think it’s a community that’s growing. I think that people that come in there are getting there at the right time. Because I just don’t think it’s going to stop. I think it’s going to be one of those cities that’s going to continue to grow and it’s going to continue to flourish.”

As they spoke, it was clear both coaches miss their former home and workplace.

“There’s no place like Kitchener Memorial Auditorium on a Friday night,” said Spott. “I think for the players coming out of that [arena] tunnel, and for Pete and I coming out onto that bench, it really was a great stepping stone to the National Hockey League.

“For us, professionally, [winning the Memorial Cup was] definitely was a highlight in 2003, but, you know, the other things — and Pete and I have talked about this — [were important, too].

“Seeing early September there, and seeing all the university students move into town, dressed up in costumes, and having fund-raisers … it really is a big city but it’s a small town at the same time.

“There’s just a lot of special things about that community. The four seasons is great, but at the same time, I think the whole feeling of growing up in a small town, having your kids in a safe and comfortable environment, with great community, and great community spirit, is something that definitely separates that area.”