Forwards Keenan Haase and Eric Buckley are returning to the Kimberley Dynamiters and expectations are high for the 2015-16 KIJHL season.
Dynamiters general manager Mike Reid confirmed Wednesday that the forwards were set to return to the club this coming season, after weighing options south of the border.
“We’ve basically got our core group back and some new pieces coming in,” Reid said Wednesday. “We’re pretty excited. Keenan is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound centreman. Any team in any league is looking for that kind of guy, so we’re excited to have him back. We feel he’ll be one of the top-tier players in the league this year.
“Obviously Eric will bring a veteran presence. He plays a very agitating role and his speed is something that helps us. He’s a kid that’s been in the league, heading into his fourth season, so he’ll bring a lot of leadership to the room as well.”
Haase and Buckley played a variety of roles through the 2014-15 campaign, moving fluidly within the Nitros contingent of top-nine forwards.
Haase, a native of Mission Viejo, Calif., fielded opportunities to play American Junior ‘A’ hockey in the United States Hockey League (USHL) but opted to return to the relatively chilly mountain town that witnessed his game develop and mature over the course of last year’s breakout season in the KIJHL.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound centre stacked up 26 goals and 43 points in 51 games during his first season north of the 49th parallel, coming on especially strong as the season wore on.
After finishing sixth in team scoring, Reid said expectations are higher for the 19-year-old California native heading into 2015-16.
“We expect him to be our No. 1 centre,” Reid said. “We expect him to be a big part of our power play and to dominate games physically with the size he has. He’s a kid that we hope to see in the top-five to 10 in scoring in the league this year.
“He’s a bit of a slow starter. That’s one of his faults, but coach [Jerry] Bancks has done a great job of working with him and we’ll see a guy that can come out and dominate for 60 minutes on a consistent basis.”
As for Buckley, the diminutive forward had offers to play NCAA Div. III collegiate hockey, but decided playing out his junior eligibility might prove better for his long-term development.
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound winger from Penticton registered a career-high 43 points through 47 games last season. His role as agitator and irritator has been well established throughout the KIJHL and particularly within the Eddie Mountain Division.
With Haase and Buckley back in the fold, the bulk of the Dynamiters’ core group will return with sights set on defending its 2015 KIJHL championship.
KIJHL scoring champion and Nitros captain Jason Richter is back.
Jordan Busch, Eddie Mountain Division defenceman of the year, is set to patrol the blue line once again.
Justin Meier, the steam-rolling defenceman who joined the Nitros at last year’s trade deadline, will maintain his trolly tracks at the Kimberley Civic Centre for one more season.
The strong supporting cast remains in place.
And some guy by the name of Tyson Brouwer will return between the pipes.
Departed are offensive weapons Braden Saretsky and Coy Prevost, who have committed to the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior ‘A’ Hockey League (AJHL).
On the back end, defenceman Tyler Kinnon is moving on to go to university, so his grit will need to be replaced as well.
Goaltender Brody Nelson was shipped north to the Revelstoke Grizzlies in exchange for future considerations.
Fresh faces in the Dynamiters dressing room include local products and former affiliate players, defenceman Tyler Van Steinburg and James Rota.
The high-scoring Austyn Moser was brought in from the Taber ‘AA’ Golden Suns midget program after tacking up 22 goals and 47 points in 30 games last season.
In the goaltending department, Reid is still working on finding a capable backup for Brouwer.
Dynamiters players are scheduled to return to Kimberley in time for conditioning and fitness on Aug. 30. From there, main camp begins Sept. 4 at the Kimberley Civic Centre and endures through Sept. 6.