Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey is celebrating the fact that its bantam A1 team will play for a provincial championship this year, the local association’s 50th.
The bantam A1 provincial championships are being held March 19-22 in Nanaimo. Ridge is one of eight teams.
The Rustlers went 10-9-1 and finished third in the Pacific Coast regular season, then went 4-2-1 in the playoffs, including a win over Burnaby Winter Club, to advance.
RMMHA president Scott Falconer said acknowledgment has to be given to bantam co-coaches Bobby Vermette and Mike Legg, who he calls great hockey men. He said they have done an outstanding job with the bantam club this year.
— Ridge Meadows Rustlers Bantam Tier 1 (@A1Rustlers) March 12, 2018
Vermette grew up playing sports in Maple Ridge, had a great career in the BCJHL, coached the Coquitlam Express, and has been a professional scout for two NHL organizations. He got involved in evaluating players for the Ridge association, worked as a skills coach and coach mentor, and this year agreed to take on a team.
Legg played professional hockey in both North America and Europe, following four seasons in the NCAA with the University of Michigan. He played with former Vancouver Canuck Brendan Morrison, best known for centering the West Coast Express line. Legg was drafted by the New Jersey Devils, but did not play in the NHL.
They also benefit from quality assistants in Alex Smith and Jake Howardson, along with team officials Aaron Nikaniuk, Kerry Nagy and Bill Foster.
Falconer watched the bantams beat North Shore Winter Club 4-0 to get into the provincials, and said it was one of the most solid hockey games he has seen all season, and a total team effort.
“They are benefiting from four quality individuals teaching them how to play the game, and how to carry themselves off the ice,” said Falconer.
This year’s entry at the provincials is only the second bantam A1 team in the history of the association to make it this far.
The last was Morrison’s team in 1990.
Vermette credits Legg for leading the team’s skill development, as well as the players for their commitment to improving.
“They’ve come a long way,” he said. “They work extremely hard and have done everything we’ve asked.”
In particular, Vermette said the players got stronger on the puck as the season went along, a skill they worked on in practice with battle drills and small-area games.
Vermette also said the players get along really well, and even ice-time has fostered a sense of teamwork.
He intends to continue with that at the provincials, where there will be 2o-minute periods.
“We’ve just got to play our game.”
Vermette added there was much parity in the league this season, so his players came to the rink each game knowing they had a chance to win.
“Any team could beat anybody on any given night,” he said.
So consistency was key, and his team had that.
“They guys wanted it.
Besides finishing third overall in league play, the Rustlers won tournaments in Coquitlam and in Phoenix.
Falconer said bantam is a key year for hockey players, so it looks good on the association to have an elite group at that level.
“They are looked upon in every association as a focal point – a flagship team,” he said. “You’re looking at the step to major midget, academies, your WHL draft year …”
“The team itself, our association and the community should all be proud.”
Bantam A1 players: Kyle Kelsey, Jayden Prickette, Oliver Nagy, Liam Farrell, Nathan Boater, Tommy Williams, Brady McIsaac, Jackson Payeur, Davis Murray, Anton Fuchs, Dylan Smail, Nicholas Miller, Adam Leitch, David Stepputat, Andrew Thompson, Ben Fontaine, Adam Jones, Jack Wingrove, Cameron Nikaniuk, and Jack Foster.
• The B.C. juvenile championship are being held at Planet Ice in Maple Ridge March 22–25, with six teams battling for the title, including the Ridge Meadows Moose.
The juvenile team staff includes Derek Ferguson, Derek Bedard, Mike Lourens, Jordan Wolfe, and Scott Lyttle.