KIJHL Preview: Part I

Taking a look at the KIJHL's Okanagan/Shuswap Conference heading into the 2014-15 season

Taylor Rocca

The 2014 KIJHL regular season begins Friday, Sept. 12 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 Okanagan/Shuswap Conference.

All rosters detailed here on in are current as of Sept. 10. 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.

Doug Birks Division:

Kamloops Storm2013-14: 42-9-0-1 (85 points; 1st in Doug Birks Div.)Post-season: Lost in KIJHL finals to Beaver Valley (4-2)Season opener: Sept. 13 vs. Summerland Steam

With the departure of forwards Brock Balson, Josh Rasmussen and defenceman Daniel Buchanan — the team’s top three scorers from last season — the Kamloops Storm will sport a new look in 2014-15 with at least 13 new players donning Storm colours.

Still, seven returners remain including Ryan Keis, who is back from Saskatchewan after a stint with the SJHL’s Melfort Mustangs. Keis registered 11 points in 14 games with the Storm last season and stands to takeover some of the responsibilities left behind by the likes of Balson and Rasmussen.

The biggest question still to be answered remains between the pipes. The Storm will begin the season with at least one rookie in the crease as Bailey De Palma looks to fill the shoes left behind by Liam McLeod and Wade Moyls.

General manager Barry Dewar believes his team is young, hungry and built for the playoffs. Time will tell if the Storm have what it takes to make a return trip to the KIJHL finals.

Chase Heat2013-14: 27-23-0-2 (56 points; 2nd in Doug Birks Div.)Post-season: Lost in first round to 100 Mile House (4-1)Season opener: Sept. 13 at Osoyoos Coyotes

With 12 players set to return, could this finally be the year the Chase Heat burn up the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference and run for the Doug Birks Division title?

In 2013-14, the Heat recorded the organization’s first winning season since returning to the KIJHL in 2011-12. Going 27-23-0-2 was a gigantic leap from the 11-35-3-3 record the team posted in 2012-13.

If the trend continues, an experienced Heat squad could overtake the division’s defending champions down the highway in Kamloops. The team’s top two producers — Kaleb Boyle and Connor Venne — return to fuel the offense. Boyle cranked out 37 goals and 74 points in 51 games last season while Venne contributed handsomely with 26 goals and 70 points in 47 games.

The big change for the Heat comes between the pipes with Michael Byer and Nic Bruyere. Byer went 6-8-0 with a 3.78 GAA and 0.901 SP last season as the backup to Jacob Mattes, who departed after aging out of junior hockey. Bruyere toiled with the Grandview Steelers of the Pacific Junior Hockey League posting a 3.78 GAA and 0.874 SP.

100 Mile House Wranglers2013-14: 23-21-0-8 (54 points; 3rd in Doug Birks Div.)Post-season: Lost in second round to Kamloops (4-0)Season opener: Sept. 12 at Grand Forks Border Bruins

With the 2014-15 campaign on the horizon, the 100 Mile House Wranglers look to build upon a strong first season in the Interior. The club moved from Penticton after a dismal 2012-13 season in which it registered a record of 11-35-1-5. The team more than doubled its win count the next season, going 23-21-0-8 in 2013-14.

With last year’s leading scorer Luke Santerno committed to the Cowichan Capitals and likely to stay with the BCHL club, the Wranglers pack will be headed by Lane van de Wetering in 2014-15.

van de Wetering, a native of Quesnel, finished second in scoring behind Santerno last season, tallying 12 goals and 42 points in 52 games. He will be joined by newcomer and KIJHL veteran Devan Suidy. The native of Langley spent the 2013-14 campaign with the Princeton Posse, sniping 26 goals and 45 points in 41 games. The Wranglers acquired the 6-foot-3 forward Aug. 12 in a deal that saw Connor Sloan head to Princeton.

With major turnover on the blueline, the Wranglers will rely on its goaltending duo. Both Kristian Stead and Magnus Viberg return in 2014-15, giving the Wranglers stability between the pipes.

Sicamous Eagles2013-14: 23-26-0-3 (49 points; 4th in Doug Birks Div.)Post-season: Lost in first round to Kamloops (4-1)Season opener: Sept. 13 vs. Revelstoke Grizzlies

The Sicamous Eagles saw themselves near the basement of the Doug Birks Division in 2013-14 and will look to change that in 2014-15.

The team’s top two scorers from last season return in 2014-15. Nathan Grieve (19 goals and 42 points) and Riley Jepson (14 goals and 31 points) will lead the charge.

On the blueline, 17-year-old veteran Darien Head returns to anchor things in the defensive zone. With 95 games of KIJHL experience to his credit, the native of Salmon Arm is a key return on the backend.

Revelstoke Grizzlies2013-14: 9-39-0-4 (22 points; 5th in Doug Birks Div.)Post-season: Failed to qualifySeason opener: Sept. 13 at Sicamous Eagles

After a tough 2013-14 campaign, it was a season of change for the Grizzlies, both on and off the ice.

Perhaps the biggest change came June 11 when the team was sold from Lew Hendrickson to an ownership group fronted by Ryan Parent, who also took over duties as head coach and general manager.

Defenceman Kenny Batke, the team’s rookie of the year in 2013-14, returns to hold down the blueline. The 19-year-old native of Vernon suited up for 50 games in his first full season with the Grizzlies. He is joined by 20-year-old veteran Derek Miskiman. The 6-foot-2 blueliner has 126 KIJHL games under his belt and was acquired from the Sicamous Eagles Aug. 19.

A trio of Revelstoke 16-year-olds will join the Grizzlies this season, adding fresh blood to a program looking at a fresh slate. Louie Federico, Josh Pilon and Nii Noi Tetteh will provide an infusion of youth in 2014-15.

There’s nowhere to go but up in the Doug Birks Division for the Grizzlies. The 2014-15 season should be a good indication whether or not Ryan Parent is the man to take the team in that direction.

Okanagan Division:

Summerland Steam2013-14: 33-15-1-3 (70 points; 1st in Okanagan Div.)Post-season: Lost in first round to North Okanagan (4-2)Season opener: Sept. 12 vs. Kelowna Chiefs

The Summerland Steam return with sights set on repeating as Okanagan Division champions in 2014-15.

Forward Paulsen Lautard leads the offense this season after tying for the team scoring lead with 23 goals and 56 points in 2013-14. He will be supported by newcomers Riley Pettitt, Cole Woodliffe and Cody Egilson. The Steam have high expectations for the trio of newcomers after strong showings through training camp and pre-season.

Goaltender Brett Huber went 21-11-1-0 in 2013-14 alongside a 2.70 GAA and 0.914 save percentage. The 19-year-old Calgary native returns to backstop the club in 2014-15.

Kelowna Chiefs2013-14: 31-17-0-4 (66 points; 2nd in Okanagan Div.)Post-season: Lost in first round to Osoyoos (4-0)Season opener: Sept. 12 at Summerland Steam

After a disappointing first round loss to the Osoyoos Coyotes, the Kelowna Chiefs made two key acquisitions to bolster the lineup ahead of 2014-15.

Centre Ethan Rusnack spent the 2013-14 campaign with the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, registering 19 goals and 36 points in 39 games. The Chiefs shipped forward Nick Kovacik to the Thunder Cats in exchange for Rusnack Aug. 6. With last season’s leading scorer Jagger Bowles graduated from junior hockey, Rusnack and returning forward Brady Mende will look to pick up the slack.

Goaltender Chris Turner was acquired from the Sicamous Eagles over the off-season. The 19-year-old Turner is the only returning netminder in Chiefs camps this year. He went 5-15-0 last season with a 3.29 GAA and 0.916 SP for the Eagles.

Osoyoos Coyotes2013-14: 29-22-0-1 (59 points; 3rd in Okanagan Div.)Post-season: Lost in third round to Kamloops (4-1)Season opener: Sept. 12 at North Okanagan Knights

After making a strong post-season push in 2013-14, the Osoyoos Coyotes head into the 2014-15 looking to take the next step.

Troy Maclise, who finished third in scoring in 2013-14, returns to head the pack as last season’s leading scorer Colin Chmelka aged out of junior. Maclise tacked up 24 goals and 55 points in 50 games with the Coyotes last season.

Lawrence Langan handled the bulk of the goaltending duties in 2013-14, seeing action in 34 games for the Coyotes. He returns in 2014-15 to carry the load once again.

With a group of returners rivalling that of the Chiefs and Steam (all three teams boast seven returning players), the Coyotes will look to challenge their Okanangan Division rivals in 2014-15.

North Okanagan Knights2013-14: 24-26-0-2 (50 points; 4th in Okanagan Div.)Post-season: Lost in second round to Osoyoos (4-1)Season opener: Sept. 12 vs. Osoyoos Coyotes

The first major change at the Knights’ table this off-season was the hiring of new coach Jim Armstrong.

Beyond that, scoring forwards Blake Culbert and Tanner Burns aged out leaving room for returning forward Logan Mostat to take over the reigns. The 17-year-old native of Salmon Arm returns to the Knights after being released from his tryout with the BCHL’s Salmon Arm SilverBacks.

Supporting Mostat will be returning brothers Dryden and Mitch Profeit.

Dryden, a veteran defenceman of 97 KIJHL games, was named team captain in late August and will anchor the blueline.

Mitch, the younger of the two Profeit brothers, battled his way to earning the starting gig between the pipes heading into 2014-15. As backup to Zach Dyment in 2013-14, Mitch went 7-10-0 with a 3.36 GAA and 0.894 SP.

Princeton Posse2013-14: 16-30-0-6 (38 points; 5th in Okanagan Div.)Post-season: Failed to qualifySeason opener: Sept. 14 vs. Chase Heat

The latest news out of Princeton sees the Posse bolstering its goaltending situation with the acquisition of Stephen Heslop. Paired with returner Spencer Huff, the Posse are set between the pipes as they look to climb the ladder in the Okanagan Division in 2014-15.

It was a busy off-season for the Posse with the team swinging five deals between June and the end of training camp.

Forward Paul Ramsey was dispatched to Sicamous in exchange for future considerations, while forward Dalton Dubetz and defenceman Trevor Beaton were shipped to Creston Valley in exchange for forward Colton St. John.

St. John, a native of Anchorage, Ala., spent the majority of last season with the Thunder Cats, posting three goals and 23 points in 29 games. The 20-year-old will look to add offence to a Posse squad that dealt Devan Suidy to the 100 Mile House Wranglers Aug. 12.

St. John won’t be alone. The Posse didn’t come up empty-handed in dealing Suidy to 100 Mile House. In exchange, the team received 19-year-old forward Connor Sloan. The native of Kelowna snagged 19 goals and 41 points in 50 games with the Wranglers in 2013-14.