The Revelstoke Grizzlies are set to start a new season this year, and after two seasons out of the playoffs followed two first round exits, they’re hoping to do some damage this year.
“It feels great to be in the arena with all the boys. We have some good young talent coming in,” said centre Jordan Rae. “I think we’ll have a good team this year.”
Rae, who turns 20 in December, will be the Grizzlies elder statesman this year as he skates his final season of junior hockey. Last year he finished second on the team in scoring with 35 points in 45 games and wants to lead the team offensively this year, while being a leader in the dressing room.
“I have to be a leader, show these younger guys how it works,” he said following Friday’s exhibition win over the Columbia Valley Rockies. “I like to score goals too. It’s my goal to the be the top offensive guy and I’m pretty sure that’s my role.”
The Grizzlies begin their regular season this Friday, Sept. 8, when they host the Kamloops Storm at the Forum. On Saturday, they host the Chase Heat before spending the rest of the month on the road.
Revelstoke’s two opponents this weekend finished 12 and 25 points ahead of them in the Doug Birks division last year, respectively, and the weekend will present a good test on how the Grizzlies match up against their rivals this season.
Coach Ryan Parent said he thinks the team is better this year than last.
“I think we have a little bit more offensive touch this year,” he said. “I think we’re carrying some momentum of the experience from last year. We have a good returning core.”
Parent pointed to defenseman Ullar Wiatzka, who was in the room while we spoke, as one of the returnees who will be expected to lead the way this season.
Wiatzka, a Revelstoke local who is entering is third season with the team, says he’s ready.
“I see myself as a leader and I want to contribute offensively and be solid defensively too,” he said. Hopefully I can do that to the best of my ability.”
Revelstoke went 3-1-1 in the exhibition season. They started with a 4-2 win over the Kelowna Chiefs at home on Aug. 26, followed by a 3-3 tie at home against Golden two nights later. On Aug. 30 they topped the Rockets 7-5 on the road. Last weekend, the split a home-and-home series against the Columbia Valley Rockies, with each team winning at home 5-3.
“We’ve been playing well in these pre-season games and I’m excited for the season to start,” said Rae.
One area Revelstoke has struggled the past few seasons is in scoring goals — last year only five teams in the league scored less than the Grizzlies. Parent said he thinks the team will get goals from all four lines this year.
“If you’ve got guys who want to score, you’re going to score more goals. If you play the right way, you’ll score more goals,” he said. “We’ve got some young guys who are really contributing — guys that weren’t in our lineup last year. It adds to what we’re able to deliver as a group collectively.”
Wiatzka said the team needs to improve its performance in the regular season to help get out of the first round. “I think we need to compete every night,” he said. “Finishing fourth hasn’t helped us in the first round, so I think finishing higher in the standings and making them come here — we have a good fan base and it’s hard for them to win here in the playoffs.”