The defending 2014 Coy Cup champion Williams Lake Stampeders will open the Central Interior Hockey League season at home this Friday facing their northern rivals, the Quesnel Kangaroos.
Stampeders captain and current acting coach Aaron Zurak said the team finalized its roster for the senior men’s ‘AA’ hockey season last Thursday, and thinks they’ve only gotten stronger.
“We had a ton of guys coming out for tryouts,” Zurak said. “We had to even make some cuts this year. Usually we get the same group of guys every year and the odd, new good addition but this year the turnout was really good.”
Joining this year’s club will be new additions Dylan Richardson — who was a member of the team during the 2013 Coy Cup championship win — defenceman Caleb Roy of Cranbrook, local brothers Chad Wilde and Drew Wilde (both from the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s junior ‘B’ Chase Heat), and local Kurtis Bond, who most recently played for the KIJHL’s Princeton Posse and Fernie Ghostriders.
“We got a lot deeper in skill level,” Zurak said, adding most of last year’s core will be returning to this year’s squad.
“All four of our lines could be first or second lines. We’re going to be really rolling the lines this year because of how deep our team is.”
He said even on defence the Stampeders have eight or nine defencemen who could suit up on any given night.
“It’s going to be tough working everybody in and out of the lineup but that’s what you’ve got to do when we’ve got that much interest from players.”
Out of this year’s CIHL is the Houston Luckies, due to lack of player interest, but Zurak said there are still seven solid teams composing both the east and west divisions.
Comprising the east division will be the Stampeders, the Lac La Hache Tomahawks and the Quesnel Kangaroos.
In the west are the Kitimat Ice Demons, the Smithers Steelheads, the Terrace River Kings and the Prince Rupert Rampage.
Having Quesnel and Lac La Hache both within close proximity of Williams Lake is also a bonus, he said, as the east division teams will meet several times throughout the season.
“We’ve only got one big trip on the Oct. 18 weekend,” he said.
“We go all the way to Prince Rupert and Kitimat, so we’ll leave on the Friday night. Other than that we’ve got Quesnel and Lac La Hache for the rest of our games, and Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Terrace all come here to play us.”
One team the Stampeders won’t meet during this year’s 16-game regular season will be perennial rivals, the Steelheads.
“They’ve got a solid core of guys up there every year, so I think they’ll be pretty strong. I think Terrace is improving every year — the last three seasons they’ve just been getting better and better.”
One Stampeders’ mainstay who won’t be suiting up for the club this season is sniper Francis Johnson, who will join the Tomahawks to play with his brother-in-law and former Stampeder, Wilfred Robbins.
“They play really well together, so that’s really going to make Lac La Hache a lot stronger when Wilf and Franny are on the ice together,” he said.
As for what the Stampeders expect from the Kangaroos this Friday, Zurak said it should be a tough battle.
“Quesnel, we expect them to improve every year,” he said.
“They’re always a tough team to play against … they play really hard every shift, so every game’s always close against them and we’re going to have to make sure we’re ready.”
The Stampeders are also still looking for a head coach or a head coach/general manager to lead them through the 2014/15 season. Anyone interested is asked to contact Aaron at 250-305-4433, or Stampeders’ president Marko Zurak at 250-305-4499.
Friday night’s home opener will be billed “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” night in helping raise awareness of breast cancer. Players will be wearing pink laces and using pink tape.
Anyone who wears pink to the game will receive a free cotton candy, while supplies last.
“It’s a big home opener so it’d be good to see the fans out,” Zurak said. “It’s always a good battle with Quesnel. They’re rough and tough and there are lots of goals scored in those games, usually.”
The Stampeders are also selling seasons passes at $60 per adult and $48 for students and seniors, which amounts to eight games for the price of six. Passes available at Margetts and at the ticket counter at the arena.
Puck drop Friday is at 7:30 p.m. at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex.
On Saturday the Stampeders travel to Lac La Hache for an away tilt with the Tomahawks. Puck drop will be 7:30 p.m. at the Rolf Zeis Memorial Arena.