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 at Kal Tire Place.
Black Press sports reporters and editors have assessed the rosters and decided on the following finishes:
1. PENTICTON VEES
Key Returnees: F Brad McClure (27-19-46) named captain during the summer, F Ryan Gropp (12-19-31) named Interior Conference Rookie of the Year, F Cody DePourcq (13-8-21), F Travis Blanleil (6-6-12), F Cam Amantea (7-12-19).
Rookie Sensations: Alexandre Coulombe, 18, joins the Vees after playing prep hockey with the Stanstead College Spartans where he amassed eight goals and 34 points in 62 games. The 6-foot-4 d-man was ranked 68th by NHL Central Scouting prior to the 2013 entry draft. He also comes with a commitment to the University of Vermont in Hockey East. Jack Ramsey, the son of former NHL defenceman Mike Ramsey, collected nine goals and 27 points in 24 games with the Minnetonka High School Skippers. The 6-foot-2 power forward brings great vision and hockey sense and is committed to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Anthony Conti, 17, helped guide the Vancouver Northwest Giants to their fifth consecutive B.C. Major Midget League championship. The Vancouver resident pocketed 18 goals and 48 points in 35 games. Conti, who has played 17 games in the BCHL with Coquitlam and Trail as an affiliate player, is known for his hard-nosed, relentless style of play.
Strengths: The Vees coaching staff believe they have done a good job building from the back end out. Coach Fred Harbinson likes the experience of his goalies with 20-year-old Olivier Mantha, who just committed to the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, and 18-year-old Hunter Miska. The defence is made up of a group with two to three years of junior A experience joined by rookies Coulombe and Jarod Hilderman. The forwards all possess strong skating ability and bring something to the table.
Coach’s quote (Harbinson): “You always know you have a good team when it’s hard to pick your captains (he just added defenceman Chris Rygus to the mix with McClure and assistant captain Blanleil). We have got so many guys that can wear letters on this team. Guys that have been captains on other teams in the past. That to me is what’s going to make this team go.”
2. VERNON VIPERS
Key Returnees: F Mason Blacklock (19-16-35), D Jason Bird (3-4-7), D Ryan Renz (3-23-26), G Austin Smith (13-26-1, 2.82 GAA, .908 SAV).
Rookie Sensations: F Matty Saharchuk led the KIJHL-finalist North Okanagan Knights in regular-season scoring with 32-28-60 in 50 games, and added 15 playoff points. Dallas Calvin, a 6-foot-5 forward, was fifth in KIJHL scoring last season with 31-43-74 in 40 games. F Liam Coughlin is a 6-foot-4 centre out of Catholic Memorial, the same Boston-area prep school that produced Viper grads Garrett Noonan and Mike Collins. First-year associate coach Mallette is coming off a stellar season as head coach with the North Okanagan Knights, and will demand structure and accountability from the Viper back end.
Strengths: With the return of Blacklock, Craig Martin and Dexter Dancs, along with the addition of snipers Michael McNicholas and Demico Hannoun, the Vipers should easily outperform last year’s league-worst offence. Renz, Bird and Josh Bryan lead a physical defensive corps. The team is the biggest Vernon has fielded in years.
Coach’s Quote (Jason Williamson): “We’ll be good defensively, but at the same time we definitely have some offensive guys, so we’re going to be tough to defend against. We’re going to get the same out of all four lines.”
3. SALMON ARM SILVERBACKS
Key Returnees: F Alex Gillies (21-26-47), F Evan Anderson (10-14-24), D Mitchell Ferguson (6-16-22), G Adam Clark (18-16-1, 2.89 GAA, .914 SAV).
Rookie Sensations: Vernon minor hockey product Colton Thibault excelled in his first year of junior B with the Knights, racking up 16-26-42 in 49 games. F Jack Berezin, the son of former NHLer Perry Berezan, is a 17-year-old forward who recorded 12-5-17 while playing a gritty two-way game with the Calgary Buffaloes.
Strengths: In his first year as Salmon Arm’s GM, Troy Mick gutted the program, trading 13 of 16 returnees, and they still made the playoffs. The ‘Backs top line of Gillies, Anderson and Landon Smith will be supported by a deep forward corps.
Coach’s Quote (Mick): “I’m a lot happier where I am today than I was this time last year because I really didn’t know our roster. We’ve improved our program from top to bottom.”
(Second half next week)