Mark Cheyne has seen more than a few good West Kelowna Warriors teams take to the ice in his nine seasons as owner of the B.C. Hockey League club.
Clearly, none did a more competent job of combining desire, skill, chemistry, belief and good fortune than the 2015-16 edition of the Warriors.
After a long and often arduous playoff road—35 games in just 79 days—the BCHL champs concluded a dream season Sunday in Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. with a 4-0 victory over the host Bobcats in the RBC Cup final.
While there were many keys to his club’s playoff run to the national championship, Cheyne said the character of the players is a pretty good place to start.
“We’ve had so many good teams in the past, good players, and good people, but I’ve never seen a group closer than this…there were no cliques, zero,” said Cheyne. “Everybody got along and they played for each other. Our leadership was amazing, too. Our older guys did an unbelievable job, and there was never any quit in them.
“And the comments we heard about how well the guys conducted themselves (in Saskatchewan),” he added. “It’s just a great group of kids.”
With the team’s core group in place—Kyle Marino, Kylar Hope, Brett Mennear, Jonathan Desbiens and Rylan Yaremko among them—head coach and GM Rylan Ferster added a number of key pieces during the course of the season, including size up front and on defence, and the solid goaltending of Matthew Greenfield and Keelan Williams.
The club hit its stride in the second half and lost just three regular season games after Jan. 1 to take on the look of a bonafide contender.
“Once we had our goaltending solidified, we liked our team, we thought we could compete with anyone,” said Ferster. “We liked our team a lot, but we kind of flew under the radar, and that was just perfect for us, with the type of group we have.
“We’re a meat and potatoes team,” Ferster added. “We maybe looked skilled to some people, but our skilled guys work real hard. Skilled guys like Kylar (Hope) and Jonathan (Desbiens), they both played with separated shoulders (in Lloydminster) and didn’t let up.
“With had the kind of kids who bent but didn’t break and that was special to see.”
The biggest hurdle on the road to the RBC Cup may have been crossed well over a month ago, with West Kelowna finally finding a solution for the rival Penticton Vees.
After years of playoff futility against their South Okanagan foes, the Warriors took down the Vees in six games in the Interior Division final—sweeping the last four—and never looked back.
“That was the best feeling I ever had,” Mark Cheyne said of the win over Penticton. “We have arguably the toughest division in junior A hockey and to get out of there was huge for us. Once we got out of there, I wouldn’t say it was easy after, but it was a real war winning the province. Once the guys got on roll, they just kept it going.”
Ferster, who is completing his fifth season with the Warriors, said the organization from top to bottom and side to side can take credit for the club’s first ever BCHL, Western Canada Cup and RBC Cup titles.
“To have success, everybody has to be on the same page,” said Ferster, who won a national junior A title as a player with Vernon in 1990. “It starts with Mark Cheyne, our owner, there’s no one more deserving of this.
“Then you have the office people, the volunteers, players…it really is like family, and it feels great.”
On Tuesday, the Warriors were in the process of organizing a civic celebration with the city of West Kelowna for later in the week.
The Warriors will also play host to the team’s annual alumni event this weekend. Festivities begin with Warriors Alumni taking on the West Kelowna Firefighters at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Royal LePage for the Tim Hortons Cup.