Changing narrative is clearly among the Kamloops Storm’s goals for this season.
In July, Quesnel-based businessman Tracy Mero acquired 100 per cent ownership of Parallel Storm Hockey Group, which owns the local junior B club.
Longtime owner Barry Dewar, who put 18 years into the team and enjoyed many winning seasons, is no longer part of the ownership group.
Ownership squabbles, suspensions, fines, poor attendance, losing and spats with the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and B.C. Hockey made the 2018-2019 season one of the worst in franchise history.
The Storm have a new GM, Matt Kolle, and a new head coach, Steve Gainey. They are working to improve marketing and online presence. They want fans to know the team will boast local talent.
Jassi Sangha, who coached the Storm last season and helped guide the club to much better results in the second half of the season, stepped down from the position, citing family and work duties.
“Connecting to the community, having a fun product on the ice, winning, having respectful kids that know how to take care of the fans and the people when they are out in the city— these are things we’re trying to implement,” Gainey said.
The Storm finished fourth in the Doug Birks Division in 2018-2019 with a record of 19-26-1-1 and were swept by the Revelstoke Grizzlies in Round 1 of the playoffs.
Gainey cited a strong crew of returnees and a few key additions when breaking down his roster.
Overage goaltender Ethan Paulin-Hatch of Fort McMurray is among veterans who will be counted on.
“He’s a heart guy in the room,” Gainey said. “He does a good job at leading and taking care of the young guys. He’s great between the pipes.”
Paulin-Hatch said the Grizzlies, who posted a record of 42-6-0-1 last season, did not suffer from major turnover in the off-season and will again be a team to beat.
Meanwhile, the 100 Mile House Wranglers are ramping up to host the junior B provincial championship tournament, the Cyclone Taylor Cup, and are expected to be strong.
The Chase Heat also look to be a formidable opponent in the Birks Division.
“It’s going to be a really competitive division, but I think we’re going to be at the top of it,” said Paulin-Hatch, who played in 41 games last season and posted a .908 save percentage.
“Win the league. That’s the most important thing to me. It’s my last year.”
Therann Kincross, a 20-year-old forward from Victoria, is the Storm’s top centreman. He racked up 47 points, including 17 goals, in 47 games in 2018-2019.
“We’re looking like a good, skilled, young group of guys,” Kincross said.
“We have a lot of guys who can play up and down the lineup. Strong goaltending. We’re looking pretty good this year.”
Gainey encouraged fans to get to the rink early in the season to catch a glimpse of forward Yewta Plamondon, who played last season for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Plamondon, expected to slide in on the wing beside Kincross on the top line, had 40 points in 40 games as a 16-year-old with the Storm in 2017-2018.
“He wants to get back [to junior A],” Gainey said of the Quesnel product. “He’s got some smooth skills that are enjoyable. You can see that pretty quickly when you watch him.”
On defence, two 16-year-olds — Jason Carroll of Kamloops and Brody Johnston of Vanderhoof — have caught Gainey’s eye.
“They have high awareness, physicality and understanding of the game,” Gainey said. “I’m comfortable having them on the ice at all points as 16-year-olds.”
The Storm posted a 2-1 record in the pre-season.
Regular season action begins for Kamloops this Friday, when the Golden Rockets come to town. Chase is in Kamloops on Saturday. Both games are at Memorial Arena, starting at 7 p.m.
Whether the old barn on Victoria Street remains home base for the Storm remains to be seen.
A move back to McArthur Island in time for the 2020-2021 campaign is a possibility.
“I love it here,” Gainey said of Memorial. “I live downtown and this old rink has tonnes of history. Some people in the building would be the only thing that would really change that energy. It’s always fun with more people.
“We have seen that there is a following on the North Shore. I can understand why this group would consider that option of returning that way.
“If we’re able to make things exciting in this building here, then, again, that’s their decision, but I think they’d be fine staying here if things are going well.”