It’s the 53rd season in the B.C. Hockey League and the Interior Division appears to be even more balanced than last year when the playoff race went down to the final weekend.
The defending champion Vees appear primed to repeat, but after that, the Interior spots are wide open. Again, one or two very good teams will miss the post-season dance.
Black Press sports reporters and editors have assessed the rosters and predicted the following finishes:
Key Returnees: F Matthew Serratore (5-9-14), Steen Cooper (9-32-41), Riley Alferd (7-17-24), Jack Ramsey (9-16-25), Cody DePorucq (20-18-38) and Cam Amantea (10-7-17). D Patrick Sexton (3-6-9, 66 PIM), Jarod Hilderman (1-7-8). G Hunter Miska (19-12-2, 2.26 goals against average, 2 SO, .915 save percentage.)
Rookie Sensations: Tyson Jost, 16, helped the Okanagan Rockets major midget team earn bronze at the Telus Cup. Jost racked up 44 goals and 88 points in 36 B.C. Major Midget League games. Jost, who potted a hat-trick against Alberni Valley in the Bauer BCHL Showcase on the weekend, was invited to Hockey Canada’s under-17 hockey challenge development camp with Vees teammate, defenceman Dante Fabbro. Also 16, Fabbro was the 2013 Hockey Now B.C. Minor Hockey Player of the Year. He tallied 22 goals and 61 points in 38 games with the Vancouver Northwest Giants. D Miles Gendron was drafted by the Ottawa Senators last summer. Gendron is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and bring skill to the blueline. Lewis Zerter-Gossage, considered more of a playmaker than shooter, pulled a hat-trick in an 11-2 smothering of Surrey Eagles in the Showcase. Zerter-Gossage is 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and played for Kent School last season. Zerter-Gossage is committed to Harvard for 2015-16.
Strengths: The Vees will possess a strong transition game as they play with speed. The D will also be moving the puck quicker. Vees coach/GM Fred Harbinson said when they have the ability to create turnovers, they will be heading into the offensive zone in a hurry and put teams on their heels. Harbinson also feels they have done a decent job adding size.
“Someone made a comment about Jost being a small forward,” said Harbinson. “He’s 195 pounds. He’s not small. Zerter-Gossage is just a shade under 6-3. I think we play big. I think our guys have gotten stronger. Jack Ramsey (6-foot-3, 191 pounds) has gotten stronger. Demico Hannoun (6-feet, 195 pounds) is a big forward. I think size is not going to be an issue for us.”
Coach’s quote Fred Harbinson: “We have a lot of young players that I think are just gong to get better with time. If we keep working with them on a day-to-day basis, and they are willing to put in that work … I think you will see us by second half of the year, we are going to be better than we are now. This is one of the deepest teams we’ve had.”
2. Merritt Centennials
Key Returnees: F Diego Cuglietta (19-37-56), F Gavin Gould (13-16-29), F James Neil (10-19-29), F Adam Tracey (12-14-26), D Shane Poulsen (7-19-26), D Jake Clifford (4-14-18)
Rookie Sensations: Head coach and GM Luke Pierce and his assistant Joe Martin once again spent the summer looking for offence. They found some gems in Americans John Shiavo (94), and Michael Ederer (96), along with home-grown talent Braden Fuller (95) and Nick Fidanza (96). Shiavo, from Long Island, NY, is a latecomer to ice hockey having grown up playing the inline version of the game. He has unreal hands and a nose for the net. He attended the New York Islanders development camp this summer. Ederer, another New Yorker, put up big numbers (30-23-53) with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres of the OJHL last year and is committed to St. Lawrence University in 2015. Fuller, from Grande Prairie, and Fidanza, from Kamloops, both excelled in the KIJHL last season. The former netted 17-24-41 with the Beaver Valley NiteHawks, while the latter posted 21-27-48 skating for the Chase Heat. The Cents’ revamped blueline has added imposing Matt Foley (95) from Longmeadow, Mass. and promising 1997-born youngsters) Tyrell Buckelly (OHA Varsity Reds) and Cooper Prechal (Princeton Posse). This year’s unheralded sleeper could be 17-year-old Colin Grannary of Delta.
Strengths: All good things start in goal, and the Cents’ off-season acquisition of 20-year-old Jonah Imoo from the Powell River Kings bodes well for the new season. The BCHL veteran and 2013 World Junior A Challenge participant has outstanding ability and tremendous leadership qualities. The return of 11 veterans should bring both stability and maturity to the ranks, while the new, young blood will contribute a considerable amount of fresh enthusiasm and energy.
Coach’s Quote Luke Pierce: “We are once again excited to get the BCHL season underway with a solid group of veterans and promising new recruits. We have what appears to be a very mature group of players with experience winning at many different levels of hockey. Our division looks to be even stronger than last year, and we recognize the daunting challenge it will be to get ourselves to the top. We will once again rely on our depth and experience to guide us through those challenges, and are excited about what lies ahead this season.”
3. Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Key Returnees: F Thomas Plese (10-17-27), F Taylor Maruya (8-16-24), F Colton Thibault (5-9-14), D Andrew Farny (4-23-27) and G Angus Redmond (11-18-0, 3.33 GAA, .899 SAV).
Rookie Sensations: The SilverBacks have added two local boys with WHL pedigree in Shane Danyluk and Carson Bolduc. Danyluk, a centre, played 248 games for the Prince Alberta Raiders scoring 77 points. LW Bolduc played 121 games in Prince George and Kamloops. Calgary F Nick Josephs played two seasons for the Junior B Kelowna Chiefs, amassing 151 points in only 74 games.
Strengths: A young but mobile defence led by Andrew Farny and Cole McCaskill will help to bolster a fast, skilled offence with a lot of depth that is capable of scoring from all four lines. Adding Bolduc and Danyluk, both who have WHL experience, is a major boost to the size and lethality of the ‘Backs offence.
Coach’s Quote: Brandon West, “I’ve been really impressed by the level of skill and character shown by our players throughout camp and preseason. We have addressed our team’s concerns, and have taken positive steps forward.”
4. Vernon Vipers
Key Returnees: F Liam Coughlin (18-27-45), F T.J. Dumonceaux (7-13-20), D Riley Guenther (6-17-23), D Kenny Citron (1-6-7) Danny Todosychuk (11-9-1, 3.15 GAA, .902 SAV).
Rookie Sensations: Thomas Aldworth of Keller, Tex. and Luke Voltin of Blaine, Minn. will join Liam Coughlin of Boston on the Vipers’ all-American top line.
Aldworth pocketed 3-1-4 last season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL and 3-3-6 with the Lone Star Brahmas of the NAHL as an 18-year-old. Voltin supplied 3-11-14 with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL and 1-3-4 with the Minot Minotauros of the NAHL. Both are adjusting well this preseason to life in Canada.
Jarrod Schamerhorn will be opening night backup goaltender for Todosychuk. Schamerhorn spent last season with the Portland Winterhawks and the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL and went 2-1 with the Merritt Centennials.
Strengths: The Vipers have 16 new players following their semifinal run at the Royal Bank Cup and their roster is smaller than normal, but with more speed and moxy. Captain Guenther, the team’s top defenceman last year, anchors a solid D. The roster shakeup will be led by Mark Ferner, who left the WHL Kamloops Blazers as an associate coach to become head coach and director of hockey operations in Vernon.
Ferner, who guided the Vipers to back-to-back Royal Bank Cup wins in 2009-10, replaces Jason Williamson, who stepped down during training camp due to personal reasons.
Coach’s quote: Mark Ferner, “It’s a unique situation because I don’t know the players and they don’t know who I am or what I’m all about so we’re going to grow together. It’s gonna be a fun year with some ups and downs. I told them we’re going to have some long days here.”
5. Trail Smoke Eaters
Key Returnees: F Scott Davidson (16-19-35), F Bryan Basilico (16-16-32), F Jake Lucchini (8-18-26), D Zane Schartz (3-15-18), G. Adam Todd.
Rookie Sensations: The Smokies will ice plenty of rookies, but early standouts include former USPHL F Charlie Zuccarini, 19, and 16-year-old Robbie Johnson up front, D Sheldon Hubbard and Jeremy Lucchini, and G Brett Clark from the Keystone Cup winning Beaver Valley Nitehawks. High expectations also surround Army commits Bryan Gerstenfield (D) from Connecticut and Ryan Swanson (D) from Minnesota, and Brown commit Conner Wynne.
Strengths: Trail may be looking for an element of surprise with 10 rookies, but coach Nick Deschenes has mined some legitimate talent, including eight players with commitments to NCAA Division 1 schools. He has also acquired veteran players like Trail natives (F) Craig Martin (Alberni) and (F) Dallas Calvin (Vernon), (F) Harlan Orr (Alberni, Salmon Arm), and Coquitlam’s Victor Dombrovskiy (D) who played two seasons with the Rivermen in Langley. Mix in the returning veterans and talented rookies, the Smokies should have balance throughout the lineup.
Coach’s Quote: Nick Deschenes, “To be competitive is our goal, that’s the whole focus, and our mission is to get Trail back on track and in the playoffs. We’re going to push as hard as we possibly can all year. There’ll be games made, there will be setbacks, but hopefully overall we’re going to come out where we want to be.”
6. West Kelowna Warriors
Key Returnees: F Liam Blackburn (17-26-43), F Jason Cotton (23-36-59), F Jordan Masters (19-21-40), G Andy Desautels (27-15-2, 2.57 GAA) and D Ryan Ivey (2-4-6).
Rookie Sensations: Forward Kade Kehoe, 18, joins the Warriors from the Saskatoon midget AAA Contacts, where he scored 25 goals and 53 points and displayed a physical side with 111 penalty minutes in 40 games.
Like Kehoe forward Josh Bly, 18, also hails from Saskatoon, but played midget hockey last season in North Battleford where he tallied 65 points in 41 games.
At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Rylan Yaremko will bring size and physicality to the blue line brigade. Yaremko had 19 points in 31 games last season with the Grande Prairie midgets.
Strengths: Goaltender and team co-MVP Andy Desautels, 20, was a workhorse between the pipes for the Warriors last season and, with a largely new defensive corps in front of him, will likely need to be sharp again in 2014-15.
The club’s offensive punch rests with Liam Blackburn, Jordan Masters and Jason Cotton, a trio of skilled players who will provide veteran leadership.
With seven D not returning, the blueline will be the Warriors’ biggest question mark.
Coache’s quote: Rylan Ferster, “We have a lot of new faces, so it’s going to take some time to figure our what kind of team we are. We’ve been happy with our leadership group, the guys who we expect to lead us, when push comes to shove, they’ll need to show the way for us. It will take time to build some chemistry and see how that unfolds.”