Tyler Hansen (right) and the Kamloops Blazers are poised to make a run at a second-consecutive B.C. Division title.
B.C. crown back up for grabs
By Marty Hastings - Kamloops This Week
Published: September 21, 2012 9:00 AM
Updated: September 21, 2012 9:25 AM
B.C. Division scouting reports and prognostications for the 2012-2013 WHL campaign:
Last season: 47-20-2-3, second in Western Conference, first in B.C. Division. Swept Victoria Royals in Round 1 of playoffs before losing in Game 7 of Round 2 to the Portland Winterhawks.
The coaches: Head coach Guy Charron (third season, hired mid-season in 2009-2010 campaign); associate coach Dave Hunchak (second season); assistant coach Ed Patterson (second season); skills coach Mike Needham (second season); and goaltending coach Dan De Palma (fourth season).
Key losses: F Chase Schaber, D Bronson Maschmeyer and F Brandon Herrod, all aged out of junior hockey. D Austin Madaisky, who signed a three-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, would be a key loss, but he might be back in Kamloops, depending on the NHL lockout and whether he catches on with the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League.
The 20-year-olds: D Madaisky, F Dylan Willick, F Brendan Ranford and F Jordan DePape. WHL clubs are allowed only three over-age players on the roster. If Madaisky is returned to Kamloops, Blazer GM Craig Bonner has a decision to make.
The imports: F Tim Bozon (Switzerland) and D Marek Hrbas (Czech Republic).
Key returnees: F Ranford, F DePape, F Bozon, F Willick, D Hrbas, D Tyler Hansen, D Tyler Bell, D Madaisky (if he is back), G Cole Cheveldave, F JC Lipon and F Colin Smith.
New faces: Jordan Thomson might be the Blazers’ most promising new face. The club’s first-round pick in the 2011 bantam draft had an excellent training camp and pre-season. The Blazers acquired F Rob Trzonkowski from Calgary in May. He racked up 200 penalty minutes in 111 games with the Hitmen.
Of interest: Forwards Matt Needham and Cole Ully, both 17, are not listed as key returnees, but they might be exactly that. They are both expected to take the next step this season. Josh Connolly of Prince George is the younger brother of Brett, the former Prince George Cougar who plays with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The younger Connolly is a highly skilled blue-liner with tremendous offensive upside and will be used on the power play. Hunchak would like to see Connolly be more reliable and less unpredictable in his own zone. Chase Souto had a great pre-season. He might be more than just an energy guy this season.
Did you know: Graduated Blazers Maschmeyer and Schaber joined the St. Francis Xavier men’s hockey team in Antigonish, N.S. The X-Men compete in Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s Atlantic University Sport conference. Former Cougar G Drew Owsley, Spokane Chief F Steven Kuhn and Medicine Hat Tiger F Cole Grbavac also joined the X-Men this off-season.
The prognosis: Kamloops has the necessary tools this season to make a run at the Western Conference championship and challenge for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. The Blazers are deep up front and on the blue-line (especially if Madaisky returns) and Cheveldave looks to be the real deal between the pipes. Expectations in town are higher than they have been in more than a decade. If the Blazers can cope with the pressure and avoid key injuries, look for them to be hanging around deep in the post-season.
— Marty Hastings, Kamloops This Week
Last season: 40-26-2-4, second in B.C. division, fourth in the Western conference, lost in six games to the Spokane Chiefs in the first round.
The coaches: Head coach Don Hay (eighth season, 14th in WHL); assistant coaches Glen Hanlon (second season), Yogi Svejkovsky (seventh season); and goaltending coach, Paul Fricker (second season).
The 20-year-olds: D Wes Vannieuwenhuizen, F Taylor Makin and D Joel Neibrandt.
Key returnees: Besides the 20-year-olds, Cain Franson, D David Musil, F Marek Tvrdon and F Dalton Sward.
Key losses: F Brendan Gallagher, F Jordan Martinook, F James Henry, G Adam Morrison and D Neil Manning.
New faces: D Joel Neibrandt, G Liam Liston, G Tyler Fuhr.
Import-ant: Slovakian import Marek Tvrdon scored 31 goals, 74 points in 60 games last season.
Up front: The Giants lose three of their top-five point-getters from last season, including 40-goal men Brendan Gallagher and Jordan Martinook, who combined for nearly a third of the team’s goals. Returning to carry the offensive load are 19-year-olds Tvrdon and Cain Franson.
On the blue line: Led by newly appointed captain Wes Vannieuwenhuizen, the Giants have five rearguards back from last season, including NHL prospects David Musil and Brett Kulak, both of whom possess two-way ability. John Niebrandt comes from Kootenay, where he won a WHL championship in 2011.
In net: The Giants acquired 19-year-old Liam Liston from Lethbridge to assume starting goaltending duties from the departed Adam Morrison, who won 35 games in 55 appearances last year. Liston has 29 wins in 68 career games with the Hurricanes and Brandon Wheat Kings. Tyler Fuhr, 17, looks to have the back-up role locked down.
Prediction: A dip in production without Gallagher, who was a game-breaker last year, but still a playoff team. Look for the defence to drag the team into one of the last playoff spots in the Western Conference.
— Travis Paterson, Victoria News
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Last season: 24-46-0-2, 10th in Western Conference, fifth in B.C. Division, missing playoffs for the third time in five years.
The coaches: Head coach Dean Clark (fourth season, 16th overall); assistant coaches Jason Becker (fourth season) and Brent Arsenault (eighth season).
Key losses: Overage goalie Drew Owsley was an obvious choice for Team MVP of the 2011-12 campaign. The Cougars were consistently outshot over the course of the season and it was Owsley who held them in games and gave them an opportunity to win. Owsley played 64 games while back-up Devon Fordyce, who’s been battling Brett Zarowny for the 2012-2013 starter’s position, saw action in 14 contests.
Last season’s other overagers were F Spencer Asuchak and D Cody Carlson. With the Cougars’ talent up front, it may be Carlson the Cougars miss more than Asuchak this season. F Greg Fraser, who would’ve been battling for one of the three 1992-born overage positions, opted to drop down and join the B.C. Hockey League’s Nanaimo Clippers. Asuchak and Fraser were serviceable forwards for the Cats, but neither was a major offensive threat.
D Jesse Forsberg played with an edge and his physical play may be missed. He was dealt to the Seattle Thunderbirds in an off-season move for forward Colin Jacobs.
The 20-year-olds: F Brock Hirsche, D Dan Gibb and D Dallas Ehrhardt. Gibb may turn into the Cougars’ most important player this season. Although he’s not an offensive defenceman, Gibb has often been given the assignment of covering the opposition’s top forwards. While the Cougars will encourage their forwards to back check, it’ll be up to the more experienced Gibb and Ehrhardt to mentor the team’s young blue liners. At 194 games, Gibb has dressed in more regular-season contests for the Cougars than any other member of this season’s team.
The import: The Cougars enter the season with only one import on their team, 1994-born Latvian defenceman Rinalds Rosinskis.
Key returnees: G Fordyce, D Gibb, F Troy Bourke, F Alex Forsberg, F Daulton Siwak, F Chase Witala, F Jordan Tkatch and F Hirsche.
New faces: A couple of forwards, Jacobs (from Seattle) and Jari Erricson (from the Everett Silvertips) joined the Cougars in deals with other organizations. Erricson became property of the team after a bantam draft-day move on May 3. F Zach Pochiro joins the organization after skating with the Wichita Falls Wildcats of the North American Hockey League.
Watch for: More offensive production. If everything falls into place, this team could see its goals-for total increase by as much as 100. That noted, last season’s team was the lowest scoring in the 22-team WHL, with only 166 goals in 72 games. There appears to be nowhere to go but up. There isn’t an established superstar in this group, but there are several players capable of 50 points or more. There’s no shortage of options up front.
Of interest: Eligible for selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Alex Forsberg will be looking to have a breakout season to raise his stock value. The Cougars used the first-overall selection in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft to select Jesse Forsberg’s younger brother and, in his rookie campaign in 2011-12, Alex recorded 40 points (15 goals and 25 assists) in 51 games. Bourke led the team in scoring in 2011-12 with 18 goals and 38 points for 56 points in 71 games and, after getting selected by the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche (third round, 72nd overall) in June, he’ll look to make an even greater offensive contribution.
Did you know: The Cougars’ records show only one player in the franchise’s 18-year history has recorded 100 points in a season. Quinn Hancock, a 1977-born forward, reached the century mark in the 1997-98 campaign when he collected 54 goals and 112 points. His goals and assists totals were also single-season team records.
Prognosis: As of Tuesday, the Cougars’ 25-man roster had 11 1995-born players. Furthermore, only seven players on that list were born in either 1992 or 1993. While much of the 1995-born class saw a lot of ice time as rookies last season, let’s not kid ourselves — this team is still young and, as a result, mistakes are going to happen as players learn the game.
The Cougars have a lack of WHL experience on defence and between the pipes. Fordyce and Zarowny put up respectable numbers in the pre-season, but now they’ll start facing shots from the opposition’s top forwards more regularly. As long as the back end holds up and the goalies challenge each other, the Cougars should have no problem returning to the playoffs, but they won’t be among the conference leaders.
— Alistair McInnis, Prince George Free Press
Last season: 24-41-3-4, seventh in Western Conference, fourth in B.C. Division. Swept by Kamloops Blazers in the first round of the playoffs.
The coaches: Dave Lowry (first season); assistant coaches Enio Sacilotto (third season), Ben Cooper, (second season) and Geoff Grimwood (first season).
Key losses: After guiding the Royals through the transition from Chilliwack to Victoria, coach-GM Marc Habscheid stepped down in June. Habscheid held the post for three years and traded it in for an advisory role within RG Properties. As for the players, F Kevin Sundher, D Hayden Rintoul and F Robin Soudek all graduated. Twenty-year-olds F Mike Forsyth and G Keith Hamilton were released during the pre-season. Returning 18-year-olds F Zane Jones and D Kade Pilton were traded — Jones for Alex Gogolev and Pilton for prospects.
Rather than tempt fate and challenge for a 20-year-old spot in the WHL, D Zach Habscheid is playing for the junior A Sioux Falls Stampede of the U.S. Hockey League.
The 20-year-olds: D Tyler Stahl, F Jamie Crooks, F Gogolev.
The imports: F Gogolev (Russia) and G Patrik Polivka (Czech Republic).
Key returnees: D Stahl, D Keegan Kanzig, D Jordan Fransoo, F Steven Hodges, F Brandon Magee, Logan Nelson, F Jamie Crooks,
New faces: Lots of them. GM Cam Hope and coach Dave Lowry inherited a team of full of assets, but one that’s been missing that winning feeling. Already they’ve shaved the edges of the team while adding Russian import Gogolev, a premier left-winger in the WHL, and goalie Patrik Polivka.
Watch for: Left-wingers Gogolev and Crooks to lead a high-powered Royals offence. Crooks should hit 40 goals, if not 50, after potting 37 last year and a hat trick in the playoffs. The two lead a solid top six with Nelson, Magee, Hodges and a beefed-up Ben Walker. Rookie netminder Polivka has been lights out in the pre-season.
Of interest: Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect Stahl missed most of last season due to a concussion suffered in the fourth game. It hasn’t softened Stahl, who starts the season serving a six-game suspension for a check to the head against the Kelowna Rockets on Sept. 7.
Prediction: Forty wins and a playoff exit in seven games. Last year’s win total of 24 was the second-lowest in the team’s history. It will take Lowry all season to rebuild the team’s chemistry.
— Travis Paterson, Victoria News
Last season: 31-31-4-6, sixth in Western Conference, third in B.C. Division. Swept by Portland in opening round of the playoffs.
The coaches: Ryan Huska (sixth season, 11th on staff); assistant coaches Dan Lambert (fourth season), Kim Dillabaugh (10th season) and Kim Gellert (eight season).
Key losses: F Brett Bulmer (turning pro), G Adam Brown (graduated) and C Spencer Main (retired, injury).
The 20-year-olds: D Mitchell Chapman, F Dylen McKinley and F T.J. Barnett.
The imports: F Filip Vasko, 18 (Slovakia), and Henrik Nyberg, 18, (Sweden).
Key returnees: F Colton Sissons, F Zach Franko, D Damon Severson, D Myles Bell, D Madison Bowey and G Jordon Cooke.
New faces: F Ryan Olsen, 18, acquired from Saskatoon in the Shane McColgan deal; goaltender Jackson Whistle, acquired in a trade with Vancouver; defenceman Mitchell Wheaton, 17; McKinley and Barnett, a pair of overage forwards acquired in trades during the pre-season; and three 16-year-old rookies, including top draft pick Rourke Chartier.
Of interest: The Rockets were hoping centre Main would fill one of three overage spots, but the 20-year-old North Vancouver native was forced to retire during the pre-season due to recurring concussion symptoms.
Did you know: D Bowey won a gold medal with Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial U18 world championship in Slovakia.
The prognosis: Much like last season, the Rockets head into 2012-13 with a relatively young lineup. However, with 15 returnees and a pair of 20-year-old vets acquired in trades, the club does have more game experience and more size than a year ago.
With Severson, Bell, Bowey and Jesse Lees, Kelowna could have one of the league’s more dynamic defensive corps. The question mark is how much offence the Rockets will be able to generate from the forward positions, with a scoring-by-committee approach likely to be employed.
If Kelowna can find a way to score on a nightly basis, then 35 to 40 wins and a second-place finish in the B.C. Division shouldn’t be out of the question. If not, look for a third- or fourth-place showing.
— Warren Henderson, Kelowna Capital News