Robert Dirk is patiently putting together a puzzle that when finished, will be the 2011-12 version of the Penticton Lakers.
Dirk, who dressed in 402 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Montreal Canadiens, is the new coach and general manager of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League team.
While the Lakers open its season Friday in Summerland against the expansion Steam, he’s determined to get players who will fit just right for his team.
“We’re getting there,” said Dirk, who is filling holes in the forward position. “I’m not going to commit to players to fill roster spots that I feel can’t play in the league. We believe it’s better than the last two years.”
While Dirk is looking for the obvious skills sets in players being able to skate, shoot and pass, he’s also seeking size.
One thing that has put Dirk in a holding mode is the fact the junior B league’s season starts before the British Columbia Hockey League.
“The KI is starting before the BCHL, which is ridiculous,” he said. “In pro, the NHL starts then a week later the AHL starts, then after that the ECHL starts. There is the trickle down effect. For whatever reason, the great minds of the KI have decided to start a week before the BCHL.”
Teams in the BCHL won’t be finalizing their rosters until later. The Penticton Vees begin their season on the road on Sept. 23. He then mentioned the 21-roster size as another factor.
“Guys at BCHL camps who think they are going to play in the league and they are not,” he said. “Where are they going to play once the dream gets shattered?”
Dirk is calm when it comes to finding the missing pieces. He doesn’t have a problem with dressing nine or 10 forwards for an exhibition game against the Princeton Posse today because he will make sure they are the right kids.
Dirk, who played a physical game during his NHL career, is excited for the season because it’s a fresh start. He is also determined this season for another reason.
“Our organization and the Lakers name, we want to change the culture,” he said. “We want to win hockey games. Want to compete, want good hockey players and move them on to play higher levels.”
The Lakers play their first home game on Saturday when they host the Princeton Posse (7 p.m. start) at the South Okanagan Events Centre, then host the Spokane Braves at 2 p.m. on Sept. 18, the Osoyoos Coyotes on Sept. 24 (7 p.m. start) and the Steam on Sept. 28 (7 p.m. start).