Putting together a hockey team, says new North Okanagan Knights head coach and general manager Bryant Perrier, is like building a city.
You go brick-by-brick, tear down old habits and strip away layers. And, you have short-, mid- and long-term strategies in place.
“The long-term goal is to be in the post season, whatever that looks like, or however we do it,” said Perrier in dressing room No. 6 – a temporary office complete with his cell phone plugged into the wall – at Vernon’s Priest Valley Arena, where the KIJHL team is practising with its home Nor-Val Sports Centre unavailable until after the IPE.
“The intermediate goal is to play consistent and get this group playing with confidence, feeling good about themselves win, lose or draw, and there are going to be more positives than negatives once we implement all our systems. Short-term goal is get back into our facility for comfort.”
The building, or rebuilding process, for the Knights will be a quick one.
They opened their pre-season schedule Monday in Vernon with a 6-0 loss to the Revelstoke Grizzlies. North Okanagan visited the Princeton Posse Thursday and wrap-up their exhibition schedule Saturday in Chase.
“Against Revelstoke, in the first eight minutes they didn’t have a shot on goal, and I was quite impressed with the group,” said Perrier. “Then, there was a bit of a hiccup, we got scored on, then there was an altercation on the ice and we kind of lost our focus.”
Josh Shank, one of 12 returnees, played the first 30 minutes in net for the Knights and gave up one goal before giving way to West Kelowna’s Daniel Paul, who had a rough outing. Paul was pulled in favour of Shank after giving up four goals.
The Knights are carrying 25 players with Perrier giving all players a good look in the three pre-season encounters.
“We know this is about development,” he said. “Our goal is to help these young guys; we want them to have the chance to go to the next level.
“But nobody’s guaranteed anything. There’s a process with the 16-year-olds that we’ve signed that we can’t release them as we’re dealing with the future and stockpiling good players. The veterans, I’d like to keep them all.”
Fans can expect to see a speedy North Okanagan club once the building is complete.
“I’m all about tempo,” said Perrier. “Things have got to be done right and done right out of the gate. I’m not going to let them cheat. Little details can make the difference come November, December and after Christmas.
“Before Christmas, we’re sculpting this club. We want to be fast, forecheck, turn pucks over, and be crisp. It’s simple. Get the puck to net, create havoc and turnovers.”
The Knights open their regular season Friday, Sept. 11, in Grand Forks and visit Spokane the next night. They’ll play a third straight road game in Princeton Sept. 18 before hosting the Posse in the team’s home opener Wednesday, Sept. 23. That will be the first of five straight home games.
“Starting on the road is important to get the group together and mould things into a positive direction,” said Perrier. “There’s no distractions like being worried about the parents being there or having to get a ticket for their girlfriend. They’re just in a hotel room being with each other.
“It’s a great focus plan to start the season.”
Perrier will be joined on the bench by assistant coaches Cameron Dobransky, a Penticton native who played in the KIJHL with the Osoyoos Coyotes, and Summerland’s Daryl Jenner, who coached in his hometown and has been with the Okanagan Hockey School program for years.
Fred Dobransky, Cameron’s grandfather, will be director of player personnel.
Meanwhile, the BCHL Vernon Vipers welcomed back highly touted winger Brett Stapley and completed a trade which saw veteran F Luke Voltin head to the Langley Rivermen for futures.
Stapley, 16, was in Viper camp but left to attend the WHL Calgary Hitmen trials.
“They wanted to sign him, but he hasn’t decided which route he wants,” said Viper head coach/GM Mark Ferner. “He’s a pretty talented young kid (138 points in Campbell River Bantam) and this muddies the waters a little more. We basically have six kids going for three forward spots so we have some very tough decisions to make.”
Ferner said Voltin wanted a change of scenery and the Vipers are going in a different direction. The 20-year-old Minnesota product rang up 10 goals and 26 points in 44 games with Vernon last year.
The Vipers have 29 players, including 16 forwards, in camp and will reduce their roster to 22 after an exhibition series starting tonight in Prince George. The Spruce Kings are here Saturday, 6 p.m.