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Larsen contributing to Kamloops Storm momentum

Larsen is experiencing a breakout campaign in 2022-2023, his team-leading 28 points, including 13 goals, in 24 games leaving him tied for 11th in the KIJHL scoring race

Ryan Larsen is buzzing and the Kamloops Storm are surging, the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League squad climbing the standings after an underwhelming start to the 2022-2023 campaign.

“The ceiling for us this year is winning the Cyclone Taylor,” said 18-year-old Storm forward Larsen, referencing the provincial junior B hockey championship.

“That’s the end goal. We have to focus on winning the Teck Cup [KIJHL championship] first, but I definitely see us going all the way.”

Larsen is not short on belief and individual statistics are a window into the optimism.

The 5-foot-11, 177-pound right shot from Kamloops was in and out of the lineup last season, a fourth-line grinder who posted one goal and eight points in 37 games.

Larsen is experiencing a breakout campaign in 2022-2023, his team-leading 28 points, including 13 goals, in 24 games leaving him tied for 11th in the KIJHL scoring race.

“I think, for me, it’s confidence,” Larsen said. “Obviously, my role has changed a bit, as well, this year, but confidence is the biggest part.”

Larsen was quick to credit linemate Evan Douglas, a 19-year-old Kamloopsian, for contributing to his stellar season, which included a trip to the B.C. Hockey Conference Prospects Game on Nov. 22 in Chilliwack.

KIJHL and Pacific Junior Hockey League select squads squared off in front of scouts from 15 junior A B.C. Hockey League squads.

Larsen, a late invite to Team KIJHL, notched one goal and two assists, including a helper on the game-winning marker in a 4-3 victory over Team PJHL.

“Ryan is a good example of a young player who just keeps adding to his game,” said Jan Ludvig, first-year head coach of the Storm. “I tell the guys, ‘There’s no magic.’ Once we figure out the style that works for them … then after that it’s just thousands of repetitions and fine-tuning everything, and that’s what he’s been doing.”

Storm forward Jake Phillips-Watts of Quesnel and defenceman Owen Aura of Kamloops also toiled for Team KIJHL in Chilliwack and both are fledgling pieces of a Kamloops team that has won nine of 11 games since Nov. 1.

“Some of those losses early on are on me because I just didn’t understand certain parts,” Ludvig said. “I got a bit of a wake-up call.”

Ludvig noted general manager Matt Kolle has made timely additions to the team and said assistant coach Andrew Fisher has been invaluable.

“I’ve been around hockey in a lot of different capacities, but never really as a head coach,” said Ludvig, who played 314 games in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils and became a professional hockey scout after hanging up his skates.

“It’s a whole different story. The biggest lesson is you have to have really good co-coaches or assistant coaches. Fish has been at it. He’s been a huge help filling in the gaps I don’t have.”

Ludvig said his charges needed to work on individual skills before they could move on to executing some of the systems he was attempting to run, a problem diagnosed after the team’s disappointing start.

“I was trying to implement some things maybe our team wasn’t ready for,” Ludvig said. “Once we figured out that part, things got better.”

The Revelstoke Grizzlies have long been dominant in the Doug Birks Division and are enjoying another robust season, with a record of 16-1-3-3 and a three-point lead on the Princeton Posse (16-4-1-2) atop league standings.

Kamloops (14-8-0-2) is chasing, sitting in second place in Doug Birks Division standings and trailing the Grizzlies by eight points with four games remaining before the Christmas break.

“We’ve had some players come down from junior A, which has helped a lot, but I think we’re all just starting to click together more and it’s working out for us,” Larsen said. “A lot of it is just us gelling together more.”

The Storm will host the Sicamous Eagles (13-9-2-0) on Wednesday, Dec. 7, a 7:30 p.m. start at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre.

Larsen registered two goals in a 5-0 win over the visiting 100 Mile House Wranglers on Dec. 4, the win capping a perfect weekend for Kamloops, which blanked the Chase Heat 4-0 on Dec. 3 on Mac Isle.

Colton Phillips-Watts picked up the 16-save shutout on Dec. 4, a day after Cody Creasy stopped 21 shots to smother the Heat.

“Things take time,” Ludvig said. “In hockey, we get impatient. I scouted for 30 years. We want the kids to be doing certain things right now. Everything takes time.”

STORM BEARERS

Kamloops Storm members on Dec. 5 visited Christmas Amalgamated and the Kamloops Food Bank to distribute part of their haul from Teddy Bear Toss night on Dec. 3 on McArthur Island.

See photos in the slideshow above.

Fans tossed 175 stuffed animals onto the ice and the team collected 290 food items for donation.