Morning Star Staff
A pair of former Vernon Vipers have landed pro hockey contracts now that their NCAA university careers have finished.
Forward Darren Nowick (Northern Michigan Wildcats), recently reported to the ECHL Missouri Mavericks, an affiliate of the New York Islanders.
Nowick, a 24-year-old from Long Beach, Calif, amassed 34 goals and 75 points in four years with Northern Michigan.
He has one goal and four points in eight games with the regular-season champion Mavericks, who lost leading goal scorer Jesse Root with a season-ending injury.
Nowick recorded 36 goals and 50 points in two seasons with Vernon (2010-12). He helped the Vipers claim the 2010 Royal Bank Cup as national champions in Dauphin, Man.
Former Viper defenceman Luke Juha has joined the American League Bridgeport Sound Tigers (Islanders top affiliate)
Juha compiled 15 goals and 60 points in four seasons with the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Juha, 23, of Mississauga, Ont., played for the Vipers in 2011-12, a season cut short by injury. He has just been listed by the Tigers, who are fourth in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference,
A total of 18 BCHL grads have signed with pro teams since the Final Four teams were confirmed. Here are some of the bigger signings:
n Joey Benik (St. Cloud State, former Penticton Vees forward), AHL Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers affiliate;
n Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, former Penticton Vees forward,) NHL Minnesota Wild;
n Brandon Tanev (Providence College, former Surrey Eagles forward,) NHL Winnipeg Jets;
n Kevin Boyle (UMass-Lowell, former West Kelowna Warriors goaltender,) NHL Anaheim Ducks.
Meanwhile, third-year sniper Liam Blackburn and the West Kelowna Warriors are trying to break new ground at least one more time by qualifying for the BCHL championship series.
“It’s been great to be part of the growth of the team the last few seasons, to be part of making history,” said Blackburn, one of just three players who is in his third season with the BCHL club. The others are forwards Kylar Hope and Brett Mennear.
“Chances like this don’t come too often and the guys have done a great job so far,” he added. “Winning that first division title was pretty special for the staff and everyone with the team. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
The Warriors, who iced the host Chilliwack Chiefs 5-1 in double round-robin play Tuesaday night, entered new territory by defeating the rival Penticton Vees in six games, earning the organization its first Interior Division banner in 10 seasons.
Blackburn said team unity, experience and size have all played into the Warriors’ success to date.
“We’re definitely a bigger, older and more experienced team than we’ve had since I’ve been here, and we have great leadership,” said Blackburn, who has 66 goals and 190 points in 160 career games with West Kelowna. “We can outmuscle teams and play physical, so that’s been a real strength.”
“We’re a really close group, too, up and down the roster,” added Blackburn, who will attend the University of New Hampshire next season. “I think that shows on the ice.”
Blackburn said some key acquisitions by coach and GM Rylan Ferster have helped transform the Warriors into a more complete team, including the additions of imposing forwards Bryan Basilico and Jake Lebrun, and goaltender Matthew Greenfield.
“Picking up Matty (Greenfield) has been key for us,” Blackburn said. “He’s been stellar in the playoffs.”