Their highest-scoring defenceman is done for the season. Their top offensive players have either found jobs on the oil rigs, quit the game or committed to Junior A teams.
The North Okanagan Knights do, however, sport a decent core group and some worthy rookie recruits as they prepare for their main camp, Aug. 14-15, at Nor-Val Sports Centre in Armstrong.
Kris Mallette’s crew finished seventh in the 20-team Kootenay Junior International Hockey League last year, at 35-16-0-1. They lost a seven-game first-round playoff series to regular-season division champion Kamloops Storm.
“We’re going to be ridiculously local this year,” chuckled Mallette. “We won’t have the large Kelowna connection we had last year.”
Vernon’s Chris Gillies, who racked up 5-14-19 in 50 games last season, was seriously injured in a Jeep accident just outside of Kelowna in early July. Knights’ netminder Dustin Nikkel was also involved in the mishap, but escaped injury.
“Chris will be in a back brace for six months; he’s lucky to be alive,” said Mallette.
Captain Steven Pantazopoulos, who had 4-13-17 in 37 games due to injury last year, heads the small returning bunch of forwards, including Alex Klintare (3-3-6) and Justin Murray (3-2-5).
Enderby product Brett Hawrys, who won the Thompson-Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League scoring title this summer, is attending the Lloydminster Bobcats’ Junior A camp this month. The Bobcats are coached by former Vernonite Ryan Parent.
On the blueline, the Knights eligible to return include Josh Klein, John Saunders, Nathan Browne and Thomas Swales.
Nikkel will try to make a Junior A team in net, which leaves Aaron Brandoli of Vernon as the lone veteran.
Vernon’s Mat Lambert and Colton Thibault, who both played for the Major Midget Okanagan Rockets last season, join Salmon Arm’s Matt Saharchuk (Pursuit of Excellence, Kelowna) as rookie forwards invited to camp. Darian Head of Salmon Arm Midgets and Alex Gran of the Okanagan Rockets are recruits on the back end.
“We should have 35 to 40 kids at camp,” said Mallette. “A lot of kids want to go to Junior A camps first this year.”
The Knights, who have Shawn Webb back as assistant coach and Brett Tomlinson as goalie coach, open the KIJHL season Friday, Sept. 14 at the Sicamous Eagles. Their home opener is a Sunday matinee two days later versus the Spokane Braves.
North Okanagan will play the host Chase Chiefs in a Friday, Aug. 31 preseason tilt.
The camp runs Tuesday, Aug. 14 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and goes the next day with a goalie session from 9-10 a.m. followed by a scrimmage from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.