It’s year 53 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 to be 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.
For the record, the 2015 Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup is in Fort McMurray. The Royal Bank Cup will be held in Portage la Prairie, Man.
Black Press sports reporters and editors have assessed the rosters and decided on the following finishes:
1. Penticton Vees
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, 226 goals against average, 2 SO, .915 save percentage.
Rookie Sensations: F Tyson Jost, 16, helped the Major Midget Okanagan Rockets earn bronze at the Telus Cup. Jost racked up 44 goals and 88 points in 36 games. Jost, who potted a hat-trick against Alberni Valley in the Bauer BCHL Showcase, was invited to Hockey Canada’s under-17 challenge development camp with fellow Vees’ freshman, D Dante Fabbro. Also 16, Fabbro was the 2013 Hockey Now B.C. Minor Hockey Player of the Year. He produced 22 goals and 61 points in 38 games with the Vancouver Northwest Giants. D Miles Gendron was drafted by the Ottawa Senators last summer, while Lewis Zerter-Gossage is committed to Harvard for 2015-16.
Strengths: The Vees are bigger and will possess a strong transition game as they play with speed. The dee will also be moving the puck quicker. Vees’ coach/GM Fred Harbinson said when they have the ability to create turnovers, they will heading into the offensive zone in a hurry and putting teams on their heels.
Coach’s quote (Harbinson): “We have a lot of young players that I think are just going 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 American forwards 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. Fuller netted 17-24-41 with the Beaver Valley NiteHawks, while Fidanza posted 21-27-48 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, while the new, young blood will contribute a considerable amount of fresh enthusiasm and energy.
Coach’s Quote (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 C Shane Danyluk and LW Carson Bolduc. Danyluk played 248 games for the Prince Alberta Raiders, amassing 77 points. Bolduc bagged 8-12-20 in 121 games in Prince George and Kamloops. Calgary F Nick Josephs played two seasons for the Junior B Kelowna Chiefs, ringing up 151 points in only 74 games.
Strengths: A young but mobile defence led by 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 is a major boost to the size and lethality of the ‘Backs offence.
Coach’s Quote (Brandon West, head coach): “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, who has amazing three-stride speed, 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. Jarrod Schamerhorn will be backup to Todosychuk. Schamerhorn got in 14 games with the Portland Winterhawks and the Lethbridge Hurricanes last season and went 2-1 with the Cents. F Blaine Caton of Vernon has great hands and vision. Vernon F Jagger Williamson, who just turned 16, may be the youngest player in the league. The roadrunner was taken in round six by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2013 Bantam Draft.
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 back line. F Anthony Latina, 20, helped the Carleton Place Canadians reach the 2014 RBC final against the Yorkton Terriers and adds top-six skill. 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, citing to personal reasons.
Coach’s quote: (Ferner): “We finally just had a full team practice (Wednesday) so we are still working on our systems and structure. I’m still identifying what we got, it looks like our top six forwards are bigger and out bottom six are a bit smaller, but we aren’t worried, we are going to go out and play hard each night. This roster doesn’t look young compared to my last job.”
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 USHL 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. Zuccarini scored five goals in Trail’s 8-3 win over the Coquitlam Express at the BCHL Showcase last weekend.
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 (Vipers), Vernon F Harlan Orr (Alberni, Salmon Arm), and Coquitlam D Victor Dombrovskiy, who played two seasons with the Langley Rivermen. Mix in the returning veterans and talented rookies, the Smokies should have balance throughout the lineup.
Coach’s Quote: (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 blueline. 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 for the Warriors last season and, with a largely new defensive corps in front of him, will likely need to be sharp again. The club’s offensive punch rests with Liam Blackburn, Jordan Masters and Jason Cotton, a trio of skilled players who will also provide veteran leadership. With seven dee 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.”
Contributors: Emanuel Sequeira in Penticton, Warren Henderson in West Kelowna, Evan Buhler in Salmon Arm, Jim Bailey in Trail.
Ian Webster in Merritt and Tyler Lowey in Vernon.