Around the BCHL: West Kelowna Warriors lose defenceman to NCAA

Around the BCHL is a look at what’s happening in the league and throughout the junior A world.

Welcome to the December 13, 2018 edition of Around the BCHL.

This will be the last one for two weeks while the league (and this writer) enjoys a well-deserved Christmas break.

Happy holidays!

The West Kelowna Warriors took a hit earlier this week with defenceman Kyle Koopman leaving to join the NCAA Providence Friars.

You don’t often see this. Personally, in all my years covering the Chilliwack Chiefs and the Penticton Vees, I can’t recall a player leaving midseason to go play college hockey. It’s almost as rare to see a player go the other way, though I’ve seen a couple instances where players left the NCAA ranks to join a BCHL team (usually because of an academic issue that made them ineligible to play at their previous level).

But Koopman’s gone, leaving the Warriors with a void to fill.

The 20 year old wasn’t with West K long. He played just 18 games and recorded just eight assists.

“The loss of Kyle will not only be felt on the ice but in the dressing room as well,” said Warriors head coach and general manager Geoff Grimwood in a team news release. “It hurts our team right now but this league is about progressing these men on to the next level. We believe Kyle is more than ready for college hockey right now and we want to wish him the best of luck in Providence.”

The Warriors (20-14-0-1) are fourth in the Interior division and seem a solid bet to make the playoffs. With Koopman gone the team is running with four 20 year olds, forwards Chase Dubois, Bennett Norlin and Calvin Tilsley and defenceman Anthony Bishop.

It will be interesting to see if Grimwood goes shopping for another veteran before the trade deadline.

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The Victoria Grizzlies had a scholarship announcement Wednesday, with forward Ryan Nolan committing to Merrimack College.

Victoria Grizzlies forward Ryan Nolan puts up points and plays a heavy physical game. (Lindsey Horsting/News Gazette staff)

The 20 year old is in his second season with the Grizzlies, collecting 13 goals, 28 points and 63 penalty minutes in 32 games.

I’ve always thought of the Merrimack program as a friend to the BCHL and I’m surprised to learn there are only two BCHL grads on this year’s roster. Wenatchee’s August Von Ungern-Sternberg and Alberni Valley’s Christian Simeone are freshman forwards, with the bulk of the team hailing from the NAHL and USHL ranks.

Hopefully there’s a trend starting where Merrimack coach Scott Borek starts looking north of the border for talent.

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The Vernon Vipers got a King Kong sized monkey off their back Wednesday night with a big road victory over the Trail Smoke Eaters.

Defenceman Mitch Andres scored his first of the season 1:04 into overtime, giving the Vipers their first OT win of the season. That’s notable because they’ve lost nine games in extra time this year, six in OT and three in the shootout.

Vernon was due to have some bad-luck regression to the mean and who knows, maybe this gives them the psychological boost they need to go on some sort of run. For all their woes this season the Vipers are still a .500 club at 12-12-6-3.

One more bit of hope for Vernon, new goaltender Bradley Cooper has played three games for the Vipers, stopping 85 of 90 shots.

Looks like an excellent pickup at a very important position.

Meanwhile, the Smoke Eaters are on a downward spiral, losing eight of their last 10 games.

I saw them live last Sunday as they were manhandled 7-2 by the Chilliwack Chiefs. It was their third road game in two-and-a-half days, so I cut them a little slack, but they were a lifeless team in that game.

It’s worth noting though that they’re only two points behind Vernon and four behind Salmon Arm in the Interior division. One good stretch could change the picture significantly, but the team I saw last weekend doesn’t look like it’s primed for any kind of turnaround.

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The answer to the Shaw Centre upgrade mystery (which really wasn’t much of a mystery).

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It’s still teddy bear toss season in the BCHL, and Wenatchee has put together a nice video reminiscing about years gone by.

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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