The Salmon Arm SilverBacks training camp starts today at Sunwave Centre and, with the BCHL season set to begin Sept. 23, the team will have a new captain, new starting goalie and plenty of new faces on defence for first-year head coach Colin O’Hara.
“I think up front we have a ton of talent returning led by Brett Knowles, Bryce Gervais and Morgan Zulinick,” said O’Hara. “Those guys are going to be counted on heavily to replace what we lost.”
Knowles was the BCHL’s top playoff scorer last season and Gervais was Interior Conference Rookie of the Year. Zulinick is an interesting case as he came to the SilverBacks last year at 16 with an NCAA scholarship to the University of Wisconsin already up his sleeve. Injuries limited him to 38 games but he still had 12 goals and 17 assists.
The head coach feels the biggest challenge will be to bolster the blueline where Josh Manson, Jayson Reardon, Kevin Mills, Charlie Vasaturo and Clinton Atkinson have all moved on to college or through trades. But O’Hara is confident in the new players he’s acquired.
“We’ve gone out and acquired Sean Flanagan, Matt Brown and Bennett Hambrook and all three will be leaned on to take the workload,” said O’Hara, who also said the team has decided on a captain but won’t announce it until after camp.
In net, the ’Backs are looking to Kurt Williams to handle the bulk of the assignments.
“Kurt is going to be given the opportunity to be our starter here,” said O’Hara. “It’s his third year in the league and as a 20-year-old, you have to be able to carry the mail. He knows that, he’s put the work in this summer and hopefully it pays off for him.”
Salmon Arm has three netminders vying for the supporting role at camp in Austin Buzzell, Adam Clark and Nick Taylor. It’s a situation O’Hara likes because, as with the defencemen and forwards, it provides a battle for a spot on the team.
“We’ve got 42 guys coming in (to camp). We have competition in every spot, which is all we want in camp. We’ve got kids coming in from Manitoba to California and everywhere in between.”
As for the Interior Conference, O’Hara knows it will be a dogfight.
“The big thing for me is the amount of coaches that have changed,” he said. “A lot of what you saw last year is washed out now. Bill Birks (Trail) and Jason Williamson (Vernon) will put their own stamps on their teams. Fred Harbinson in Penticton has loaded up so they’re probably the odds-on favourites. Harvey Smyl in Chilliwack, you can never count his teams out, they’re so hard to play against and Rylan Ferster (Westside) is a great coach.
“I think it’s going to be a battle.”
O’Hara officially took the reins in early July with Tim Kehler stepping down. But it’s not the first time he’s been a head coach at the Junior A level. In Saskatchewan, he was head coach and general manager of the Nipawin Hawks for two seasons after assistant coach jobs in Vernon, Quesnel and La Ronge, Sask. Taking the job in Salmon Arm mid-summer has meant a packed schedule but he’s taken to it well.
“Obviously it’s been a bit of a whirlwind but I’ve enjoyed it,” said the father of three.
“There’s a great group of returning guys who I enjoy and the new kids are a great group who are eager to play here in Salmon Arm.”
The SilverBacks have intra-squad games open to the public Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m.