The Revelstoke Grizzlies are hoping to keep on rolling when they kick off the regular season this Friday against Sicamous.
The Grizzlies cruised through their five exhibition games, picking up four wins and a tie, and scoring 30 goals while giving up only eight in the process. Their only slight hiccup was a 3-3 tie against the Kamloops Storm last Wednesday.
“Honestly this is my most confident season coming in after exhibition,” said Kenny Batke, who is entering his third year with the team. “We were undefeated and the guys get along so well, you can definitely see it on the ice. I’m feeling really good about this year. I think we stand a good shot to go all the way.”
The Grizzlies began last week with a 6-0 win over the North Okanagan Knights on Monday. They followed it up with a 3-3 tie in Kamloops. On the weekend, they won back-to-back games over Golden, winning 4-1 on Friday and 8-1 on Saturday.
Coach Ryan Parent is happy with what he’s seen. “I think the guys are starting to buy into the structure that we want to execute with and we’re going to have a good team this year,” he said.
The Grizzlies will be a much more experience team this year, with 12 returnees from last year’s squad that just missed the playoffs, though the full lineup was not available as of press time.
Batke, a 20-year-old defenceman who is the only player remaining from the team that finished last overall two years ago, is expected to play a leadership role.
“He’s probably the most in shape player in our league, not only in our team,” said Parent. “He’s kind of a beast this year… He plays the way we want our defencemen to play. He’s steady and responsible defensively first. When there is offence, he’s able to chip in a little bit.”
The Grizzlies will be backstopped by the trio of Brody Nelson, Michael Lenko and Keyon Bittner. Nelson, 20, was acquired from the Kimberley Dynamiters in the off-season, while Lenko shared duties in nets last year. Bittner, a local minor hockey product, will be battling them for a spot. No decision has been made on who will start on opening night, said Parent.
Batke will lead the defence. Other returnees from last year who played exhibition games include Levi Morin, Kyle Baron, and Jackson Fulton. Michael Lenoury is one of the rookies mentioned by coach Parent.
Up front, local boys Louie Federico and Josh Pilon will be two key players in what Parent expects to be a balanced offence.
“Last year, it was Fiust and Chavez who did the most damage,” said Parent. “This year we might have six or seven guys who I think can bury.”
Kaden Black, the grandson of former Grizzlies manager Larry Black, is on the team. “He’s played almost every exhibition game and he’s played extremely hard,” said Parent.
Wyatt Gottschalk leads a contingent of American rookies recruited to the team this year. The 18-year-old was one of the stars of training camp.
Local Ullar Wiatzka has made the cut and will be battling for a regular spot in the lineup. “He’s doing everything I’ve asked of him,” said Parent.
Batke said the presence of a number of veterans from last year’s team will help.
“We were trying to find ourselves last year,” he said. “Now it’s like coming home again. Everyone’s a lot more relaxed.”