KIJHL Preview: Part II

Taking a look at the KIJHL's Kootenay Conference heading into the 2014-15 season

KIJHL

KIJHL

Taylor Rocca

The 2014 KIJHL regular season begins today with five games on the slate across the league.

The Beaver Valley Nitehawks return to defend their KIJHL and Keystone Cup championships in 2014-15, but that won’t be a task easily achieved.

The Kamloops Storm took home the 2013-14 KIJHL and Okanagan/Shuswap Conference regular season titles with a record of 42-9-0-1, good for 85 points.  The Nelson Leafs were tops in the Kootenay Conference, going 38-9-1-4 and collecting 81 points.

Today, we take a look at the KIJHL’s Kootenay Conference.

All rosters detailed here on in are current as of Sept. 11.

With many Junior A clubs across Western Canada still wrapping up training camps and pre-season, there will be an inevitable trickle-down effect that could see many more players return to the KIJHL club they spent the 2013-14 season with.

So while accurate for now, these roster details stand to change in the coming weeks.

Eddie Mountain Division:

CRESTON VALLEY THUNDER CATS2013-14: 39-11-1-1 (80 pts; 1st in division)Post-season: Lost in third round to Beaver Valley (4-1)Season opener: Sept. 13 at Kimberley

The Creston Valley Thunder Cats will be a very different team this season from the one that claimed the Eddie Mountain Division crown in 2013-14.

Gone are the team’s top three scorers from last season as forwards Jesse Collins, Brandon Formosa and Trevor Hanna all aged out.

“We’re going to be a different group playing a different style than last year’s team,” said Thunder Cats new head coach/general manager Jeff Dubois. “We’ve lost a great deal of skill all over the ice.

“That being said, I’m very happy with how our camp and pre-season has progressed. I’m pleased by the high standard that our veterans are setting for a very promising group of rookies. We have have enough skill to compete on a nightly basis but our overall success will be determined by how hard we’re willing to compete in a very tough division.”

Between the pipes, Brock  Lefebvre returns to backstop Creston after posting a record of 18-4-1 with a 2.81 GAA and 0.910 SP in 2013-14.

KIMBERLEY DYNAMITERS2013-14: 29-21-2-0 (60 pts; 2nd in division)Post-season: Lost in second round to Creston Valley (4-3)Season opener: Sept. 13 vs. Creston Valley

The Dynamiters stand poised to steal the Eddie Mountain Division crown from the Creston Valley Thunder Cats in 2014-15.

With a strong group of returning veterans including Jason Richter, Jared Marchi and Tyson Klingspohn, the Nitros won’t be short on speed or skill in 2014-15.

While the aforementioned returners are known across the KIJHL, the Dynamiters biggest weapon could lie within power forward and relative unknown Keenan Haase. The Californian is about to embark on his first season of Canadian hockey. Standing 6-foot-2 and possessing a heavy shot, the big man is a lethal combination of size and skill.

With returning netminder Tyson Brouwer between the pipes, there is no reason this team can’t make a strong push for the division title.

The return of Coy Prevost and Jordan Roy from their respective WHL tryouts won’t hurt head coach Jerry Bancks either.

FERNIE GHOSTRIDERS2013-14: 24-22-0-6 (54 pts; third in division)Post-season: Lost in first round to Kimberley (4-1)Season opener: Sept. 13 at Columbia Valley

The Ghostriders welcomed back a familiar face during the 2014 off-season after forward Derek Georgopolous was acquired from the Golden Rockets in exchange for cash considerations.

Georgopolous last suited up for the Ghostriders in 2012-13, tallying 22 goals and 38 points in 50 games. The Cranbrook native spent the 2013-14 campaign in the West Kootenay with the Castlegar Rebels, registering 12 goals and 34 points in 43 games.

The team also made a change behind the bench as Craig Mohr replaces Dale Hladun as head coach/general manager.

Jeff Orser and Brandon Butler will batten down the hatches between the pipes for Fernie this season. The duo represent yet another new entity for the organization in 2014-15. Orser spent the 2013-14 campaign with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Calgary Mustangs while Butler rounded out his midget days with the Calgary Buffaloes.

Dylan Robertson will sport the captaincy in his fourth full season with the Ghostriders. The 6-foot-3 forward has amassed 368 minutes  in penalties along with 27 goals and 70 points through 136 games with the Ghostriders.

COLUMBIA VALLEY ROCKIES2013-14: 13-28-3-8 (37 pts; fourth in division)Post-season: Lost in first round to Creston Valley (4-0)Season opener: Sept. 13 vs. Fernie

With 2013-14 leading scorer Ryan Henderson aging out, the door is wide open for Doan Smith to take over the reigns of the offence in Invermere. The 19-year-old native of Cessford, Alta. posted 18 goals and 33 points in 45 games with the Rockies last season.

In the blue paint, Brody Nelson returns to stop pucks for the Rockies. The 18-year-old hometown product had a tough go in 2013-14, going 6-16-3 with a 4.25 GAA and 0.888 SP. At 6-foot-1, the big-bodied netminder will be the backbone of a Rockies squad that hopes to edge its way up the Eddie Mountain Division standings in 2014-15.

GOLDEN ROCKETS2013-14: 15-32-1-4 (35 pts; fifth in division)Post-season: Failed to qualifySeason opener: Sept. 12 at Princeton

A couple of key cogs from the Rockets blueline aged out following the 2013-14 season, including captain Michael Anderson.

To take over the leadership role left behind by Anderson, the Rockets turn to Daniel Dahlin in 2014-15. The 20-year-old Anderson will wear the ‘C’ for Golden this season as he closes out a KIJHL career that has seen him dress for 116 games in his hometown colours. The 6-foot-4 native of Golden has amassed 21 points over his three seasons in the KIJHL.

Forward Ian Desrosier will look to improve upon his offensive totals in 2014-15. Another local kid, Desrosier enters his third full season with the Rockets after putting up 14 goals and 28 points in 49 games last season.

In addition to Dahlin, the Rockets could get a solid year out of rookie blueliner Alex Astasiewicz. The Salmon Arm native will be 15 when puck drops on opening night, turning 16 Oct. 1. As exciting as it could be to add a youngster of Astasiewicz’s calibre, the 6-foot defenceman might not be around for an extended KIJHL career after the Everett Silvertips selected him in the third round of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.

Neil Murdoch Division:

NELSON LEAFS2013-14: 38-9-1-4 (81 pts; first in division)Post-season: Lost in second round to Beaver ValleySeason opener: Sept. 12 vs. Beaver Valley (4-2)

After the off-season the Nelson Leafs had, who knows what to expect?

Upon taking the Neil Murdoch Division crown in 2013-14, head coach/general manager Frank Maida left the Leafs to focus on other commitments. He was quickly replaced by Matt Hughes.

Almost as quickly as Hughes was hired, he blew away in the wind, resigning from his post in late July before ever stepping behind the bench.

Enter David McLellan.

A native of Surrey, B.C., McLellan came with a long resume that features four seasons as head coach of the BCHL’s Burnaby Express. With some coaching stability in place, the focus now shifts to hockey.

The team will need to learn what life is like without high-flying offensive weapons Jamie Vlanich and Travis Wellman, who both aged out following the 2013-14 season. The duo combined for 85 goals and 184 points last season. Vlanich claimed the KIJHL scoring title with 97 points while Wellman was the only 50-goal scorer in the league last season.

BEAVER VALLEY NITEHAWKS2013-14: 38-10-1-3 (80 pts; second in division)Post-season: KIJHL championsSeason opener: Sept. 12 at Nelson

The top two teams in the Neil Murdoch Division will go head-to-head to start the season and the Nitehawks don’t project to be any easier of a squad come 2014-15.

Though last season’s leading scorer Ryan Edwards (31 goals, 84 points) aged out, the team bolstered its forward ranks with the acquisition of Braydon Horcoff from the Campbell River Storm of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. The 20-year-old Prince Rupert native posted five goals and 27 points in 27 games with the Storm in 2013-14. He is familiar with the KIJHL as well, having made a run to the Cyclone Taylor Cup with the Castlegar Rebels in 2012-13.

On the blueline, the Nitehawks lost veteran Archie McKinnon who also aged out following the 2013-14 season. But fear not, head coach/general manager Terry Jones found a replacement in Andrew Miller. The Trail native spent 2013-14 with the Kimberley Dynamiters After expressing an interest in playing his 20-year-old season closer to home, the Nitros and Nitehawks struck a deal to send the veteran defenceman west.

In net, Keystone Cup MVP Brett Clark looks to have graduated to the BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters. Carson Schamerhorn was a 17-year-old affiliate player for the squad last season and looks to fill the void. He dressed in two games during the team’s pursuit of the Keystone Cup, registering a 0.50 GAA and 0.985 SP.

CASTLEGAR REBELS2013-14: 22-25-2-3 (49 its; third in division)Post-season: Lost in first round to Beaver Valley (4-0)Season opener: Sept. 13 at Nelson

Leading scorer Connor Beauchemin aged out after producing 30 goals and 56 points for the Rebels in 2013-14. The team also lost steady defenceman Hunter Jenerou who turned 21 in June.

Austin Wells projects to start the season as the team’s new number one goaltender. The 19-year-old native of Calgary appeared in 29 games for the Fernie Ghostriders in 2013-14, going 13-13-0 with a 3.31 GAA and 0.895 SP.

The Rebels project to be a young team in 2014-15. With a powerful Nitehawks squad returning to the Neil Murdoch Division, it might be tough slugging to get up and out of the middle of the pack.

SPOKANE BRAVES2013-14: 22-26-0-4 (48 pts; fourth in division)Post-season: Lost in first round to Nelson (4-2)Season opener: Sept. 13 at Grand Forks

The KIJHL’s only American team lost leading scorer Justin Bonanno (28 goals, 55 points) and defenceman Alex Peltram to age.

Apart from that, last year’s team remains eligible to return.

A veteran-laden Braves could make a push to escape the first round of the post-season for the first time since 2009-10 when Spokane lost to the Nelson Leafs in round two.

GRAND FORKS BORDER BRUINS2013-14: 16-32-2-2 (36 pts; fifth in division)Post-season: Failed to qualifySeason opener: Sept. 12 vs. 100 Mile House

After finishing the 2013-14 campaign in the basement of the Neil Murdoch Division, there truly is nowhere to go but up for the Border Bruins.

Forward Michael Rand tallied 19 goals and 41 points for Grand Forks in 2013-14. He returns this season along with Tucker Brown (28 points).

The Border Bruins will roll with two KIJHL rookies in net to start the season. Kiernan Matsuba, an 18-year-old from Spruce Grove, Alta. joins Jacob Mullen of Coeur D’Alene between the pipes.

Mullen represents a hulking presence at 6-foot-4 and could stand to stop a lot of pucks in 2014-15.