White Rock Whalers forward Gianni Lattanzio (left) watches a puck fly over top of Richmond Sockeyes goalie Mauricio Soriano-McKinnon during the team’s opening game of the Pacific Junior Hockey League season Thursday at Richmond’s Minoru Arena. (Jody Harris photo)

White Rock Whalers split games in PJHL’s opening week

Vancouver Canuck Troy Stecher signs autographs during home opener

After a tough road loss to the Richmond Sockeyes to open the Pacific Junior Hockey League season, the White Rock Whalers rebounded Saturday with a victory on home ice to give themselves an even record on opening week.

On Thursday at Richmond’s Minoru Arena, the Whalers – now in their second season in the PJHL – lost 5-3, but two days later at White Rock’s Centennial Arena defeated their crosstown rival Surrey Knights 3-1.

Against the Sockeyes, White Rock opened the scoring just 2:25 into the game on a goal from Ben Hamel, but the two teams traded goals back and forth for the rest of the first period, with rookie Chris Fortems scoring for the Whalers and Easton Elmer and Noah Kelly, on the power play, scoring for the Sockeyes.

Richmond took a 3-2 lead in the second, but Fortems – who joined the team this season from the Delta Hockey Academy – potted his second goal of the game to tie it earlier in the third. Elmer replied barely over a minute later to restore the home team’s lead, which lasted for the remaining 16 minutes of the game.

Richmond added an empty-netter with 21 seconds left to add some late-game insurance.

In net for White Rock, Jonathan Holloway – who was a midseason acquisition last year – stopped 31 shots.

There was much more to cheer about Saturday in White Rock, as the Whalers cruised to victory against the Knights, who are looking to rebound this season – with a new coach, new jerseys and a new north Surrey arena – after a record-setting number of losses over the previous three seasons.

While Fortems and Hamel, who had two points each Thursday, led the charge offensively for the Whalers Thursday, a new cast of characters were on the score sheet in the win. Cole Svendson and returnee Saul Khalifa each scored in the first period to stake the home side to a two-goal lead, and though Ben Wasmuth cut the lead in half in the second period, White Rock’s Zach Sherwin got his first career PJHL goal on the power play to make it 3-1.

Sherwin, who added an assist on Svendson’s marker, was one of the young players identified as a key part of the offence by head coach Jason Rogers prior to the season.

“Whenever you can add some high-end skill, it’s good. We have some high expectations for guys like (Zach) Sherwin, Fortems and Margetson,” Rogers told Peace Arch News earlier this month. “They’re going to get plenty of opportunities.”

Fans at Centennial Arena were treated to more than just a win Saturday, too. Vancouver Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher – who is friend of team owner Ronnie Paterson as well as a minority partner in the Whalers ownership group – was on hand to drop the ceremonial first puck, and he also signed autographs in the arena lobby.

The Whalers are back on the road this weekend, for two games north of the Fraser River. On Friday, they’ll take on the Ridge Meadows Flames, and Saturday will hit the ice against the Port Moody Panthers.


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