It’s season 52 in the B.C. Hockey League with 16 teams hoping to join the host Vernon Vipers in the Royal Bank Cup next May. Black Press sports reporters have assessed the rosters and decided on the following finishes: (Part Two of two)
4. WEST KELOWNA WARRIORS
Key Returnees: F Seb Lloyd (24-42-66), F Ambrose Firkus (11-9-20), F David Pope (17-22-39, drafted by Detroit), F Matt Anholt (9-22-31), D Adam Plant (5-23-28).
Rookie Sensations: F Liam Blackburn comes from Prince George where last season he was the second-leading BCMML scorer (35-50-85) with the Cariboo Cougars. West Kelowna’s F Brett Mennear garnered 24-31-55 in 38 games with the major midget Okanagan Rockets. Boston native Carl Hesler is a 19-year-old rookie out of prep school south of the border and is already committed to Dartmouth University Big Green for the 2014-15 season.
Strengths: With the likes of Lloyd, Firkus and Pope all returning up front, the Warriors will have a skilled offensive attack and will rely on youth and newcomers to round out the forward lines. On defence, Plant returns after last season playing on the top pairing while 20-year-old Jaden Schmeisser, acquired in an off-season trade, will bring a veteran presence after playing the last two seasons in Victoria.
Coach’s quote (Rylan Ferster, who signed a five-year extension in the off season): “I’m optimistic about the season. We have more new faces than we had last year so it will take some time to get a read on the team. It’s going to be a tough division. There are going to be two really good teams that don’t make the playoffs. Our goal is to make the playoffs and go from there.”
5. MERRITT CENTENNIALS
Key Returnees: F Sebastien Paré (17-27-44), F Scott Patterson (11-14-25), F Jeff Wight (13-10-23), D Tyler Martin (6-17-23), D Dane Birks (5-15-20), F James Neil (7-13-20).
Rookie Sensations: Rhett Willcox (96), Gavin Gould (96) and Adam Tracey (95).
On the blueline, the Centennials have added a pair of solid Americans in Wayland Williams (94) from California and Chicago’s Jake Clifford (94). A pleasant surprise in net has been Devin Kero.
Strengths: The Cents, who finished third last year in the Interior Conference of the BCHL, just five points behind first-place Penticton, have a solid nucleus of returning veterans (including 2013 NHL draft pick Birks on defence) as well some exciting, talented new recruits. Coach’s Quote (Luke Pierce): “ Expectations here are to remain in the upper echelon of our conference. We know how daunting that task is. With a lot of new faces playing key roles on our team, it will be up to myself and Joe Martin to expedite the process of teaching Merritt Centennials hockey.”
6. TRAIL SMOKE EATERS
Key Returnees: F Adam Wheeldon (8-10-18), D Braden Pears (6-29-35) , F Scott Davidson (11-23-34), F Jesse Knowler (9-14-23), F Bryce Knapp (injured last season), and G Adam Todd (12-6-0, 3.63 GAA, .891 SAV).
Rookie Sensations: Riley Brandt, 16, combines sheer grit and determination, with touch and finesse around the net, while Dustin Nikkel (13-7-1, 2.71 GAA, .922 SAV) gives the Smokies a legitimate goaltending tandem that can single-handedly win games.
Strengths: The Smoke Eaters should have a strong and versatile defensive core with returning veterans Pears, Braedon Jones and Valik Chichkin. Throw in newly acquired 20-year-old Curtis Toneff and Alberta pickup Joel Webb, 18, Nick Patey, 18, and Vernon’s Nathan Browne, 19, and the Smokies will be big and stingy in their own end. Todd came in and performed brilliantly last season, winning 12 of 18 games he appeared in.
Coach’s quote (Bill Birks): “Our goaltending is the best we’ve ever had here, with two legit guys that can play goal. Our back end played real well (in exhibition games). Our top nine, I think we’re pretty solid. We’re not going to score seven or eight goals a game but with our goaltending and our back end, we got a pretty good core group of kids… I’m excited to get going.”