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 division champion Vees appear to be primed to repeat.
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, 2.26 GAA, 2 SO, .915SAV).
Strengths: The Vees will possess a strong transition game as they play with speed. The defence will also be moving the puck quicker.
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).
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 to the ranks, while the new, young blood will contribute fresh enthusiasm and energy.
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).
Strengths: A young but mobile defence led by Andrew 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, both who have WHL experience, is a major boost to the size and lethality of the ‘Backs offence.
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).
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 defence. The roster shakeup will be led by Mark Ferner, who left the WHL Kamloops Blazers 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 due to personal reasons.
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.
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 Craig Martin (Alberni) and Dallas Calvin (Vernon), Harlan Orr (Alberni, Salmon Arm), and Coquitlam’s Victor Dombrovskiy who played two seasons with the Rivermen in Langley. Mix in the returning veterans and talented rookies, the Smokies should have balance throughout the lineup.
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).
Strengths: Goaltender and team co-MVP Andy Desautels, 20, was a workhorse between the pipes for the Warriors last season and, with a largely new defensive corps in front of him, will likely need to be sharp again in 2014-15.