The Grizzlies will be back on the ice later this month for the KIJHL’s 53rd season.
They are looking to defend their title for a shot at winning back-to-back Cyclone Taylor Cup championships, with a new coach taking over this season.
But how are the other teams in the Doug Birk Division looking?
Assistant coach Lukas Lomicky takes over the bench from general manager Ryan Parent.
“I am pretty excited,” says Lomicky. “It’s not gonna be too much change. I really like development. I have patience and time for kids, who put in time and work hard. I think development is my big thing.”
The Grizzlies, who racked up 42 wins and 85 points, are pleased with the recruitment work they did over the summer.
“We are really confident with what we have right now,” says Lomicky.
The Grizzlies have had their main camp and now roll into the exhibition season, with their first game Aug. 31 when they host the Golden Rockets. Parent says they are close to having what they feel is top-five contending team.
“It will be a dog fight for spots. I just think it’s a natural process,” says Parent. “Guys who come to work and come prepared are going to be there.”
Veteran leadership will come from goalie Noah Desousa, who won 15 games last season and will be the anchor in the back. There will also be Jordan Kohlman and Brenden Vulcano on the back end and forward Cash Sawchyn.
Rookies to watch is to be determined, but Parent says recruiting in that area has gone well. The Grizzlies like young players who are fast, play with speed and intensity.
100 Mile House
Coach Dale Hladun encourages mistakes of “effort” during training camp.
With the Wranglers hosting the Cyclone Taylor Cup championship, they will be diligent in their preparation, team building, fitness and “enjoying the ride.”
“I want players to compete and try hard during camp and in exhibition,” says Hladun, whose team won 25 games and collected 55 points last season. “We tell our guys to keep pushing themselves through situations and we tend to play our guys through their mistakes. We need them to have confidence that they can try things.”
Key returnees are Kolby Page, Darian Long and Harley Bootsma, all 20.
“Bootsma provides great leadership and can play forward or defence,” said Hladun. “He is tough to play against and adds a lot of confidence to our line-up.”
Rookies to watch include Garrett Hunter, Quinn Mulder and Caelan Armstrong. Hunter is a six-foot-five defenceman from Parksville, who played in the Notre Dame Academy last season.
“He skates well and will be a huge asset to our club,” says Hladun, adding he has a good defensive stick.
Mulder brings a winning pedigree from Terrace, where he won a Tier 3 provincial title. A forward who possesses creativity and is a big body (listed at six-foot-one, 165 pounds) and a great sense for the game. Armstrong is a six-foot-three netminder from White City, Sask.
“Positionally he moves well and has huge upside in his game,” says Hladun.
First-year coach Tyler Gunn had his sights on players with high compete levels. He wanted people that are eager and wish to succeed. Positivity and compete will be “an absolute must in our camp (Aug. 23-25).”
The Eagles (17 wins, 42 points last season) will strive to have leadership by committee.
“For now, I think leadership by committee is the approach we want to take,” he says.
Gunn wants to create a gritty and hardworking identity. He wants the Eagles to be tough to play against every night and give themselves an opportunity to win.
“We are going to need everyone buying in,” he says. “Shift for shift, hard to play against to compete against a team like Revelstoke or 100 Mile or Kelowna that are going to be strong teams again this year.”
When it comes to rookies, Gunn is curious to see how the players excel coming in from midget. Owen Spannier, who captained Gunn’s midget team in Lake Country last season, is described as a tremendous kid who has a “great work ethic.”
“He loves the game of hockey. Is a student of the game,” he says. “Constantly learning and evolving. If I could find 25 Owen Spannier, I would bring him in.”
However, Gunn is excited about them all.
“I’m hoping there is going to be some unexpected results,” he says.
General manager Matt Kolle says they want players ready to put their best game on the ice.
“The players who want to play for the 2019/2020 Kamloops Storm will show up prepared from day one to put their best performance forward each and every time they step on the ice,” says Kolle, whose team camp is Aug. 28-30 at MacArthur Island Arena. “The successful players will be prepared, professional, and passionate about the game.”
The Storm (19 wins, 41 points last season) are returning more veterans than in past years. They feel lucky with this group that all these players have assets the Storm will rely on each game. The players will be expected to show up each day to lead on and off the ice.
Storm rookies will play 200-foot games and have a good balance of skill and grit and fit the team formula for success.
“We are excited to be icing a hockey club that has a good balance of veterans and rookies,” says Kolle. “We see our team as confident, experienced, yet hungry for more. Four lines deep with the ability to play whatever style of game necessary.”
“You can be good enough on paper and you can be talented,” says Heat coach Brad Fox, “Paper doesn’t matter. What are you prepared to do, how much work are you prepared to put into it,” continued Fox.
Training camp for the Heat (14 wins, 32 points last year) is from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, but they will be having a four-day prospects development camp. Fox is striving to accomplish a culture required to be successful.
The veteran leadership group will be defined during the two camps. However, they have Cam Watson back, who is considered “probably one of the best two-way players in this league.” Watson is joined by Brett Alexander, Evan Hughes and Breckin Erichuk, who led the Heat with 18 goals and 47 points in 40 games.
Fox has “offered rostered spots” to seven rookies.
“You need to play and carry yourself as if you are not safe,” he says.
Trevor Kennedy, 17, is strong, powerful and has an exceptional hockey IQ. He progresses by leaps and bounds in being able to play a 200-foot game. Matthew Poole reminds Fox of New York Rangers Stanley Cup-winning defenceman Brian Leetch.
“Just the way he plays. His north south, east west, his eyes, his hands, his explosion, he jumps into holes,” says Fox. “He competes hard. I don’t care if he is small. He is exciting to have.”
A third is Corson Nordick, whose twin brother Haden played last year. Corson is a heavy defenceman, who plays hard and goes to the tough areas.