A new British Columbia Hockey League Season is nearly under way as training camps have begun province wide.
Within the Junior A league, three teams are situated within the Okanagan Valley: in the North the Vernon Vipers will be seeking to capture their first Interior Division title since 2011, in the Central the West Kelowna Warriors are looking to improve on their 2017-18 season, and in the South the Penticton Vees are in pursuit of their 8th straight regular season division title.
The winner of the BCHL playoffs gets to compete for a chance to compete for a national championship at the RBC Cup against the winners of the other Junior A leagues across Canada. As players have their eyes set on a National Championship, first they’ll have to make it through training camp.
Within all Junior A hockey, there is always competition at camp. As older players age out or continue their hockey careers at NCAA schools, spots are always open for younger, hungry players.
The West Kelowna Warriors lost key pieces this year as three over age defenseman are no longer eligible to play junior: Michael Ryan (Union College), Stephen Kleysen (Niagara University), and Tyler Jutting (Air Force Academy) will be continuing their hockey careers at Division 1 schools.
For younger players situations like this are huge opportunities. Kelowna’s own, 19-year-old defenseman Wyatt Head will be one of players looking to earn that extra ice time this year for the Warriors. “It opens up a spot for me to step up and be one of the guys that can make an impact for this team…. I’m hoping to contribute offensively and be a defensive shutdown guy if [the team] needs me to. Just going to try to do everything all over the ice and be as effective as I can.”
Likewise, 2017-18 Captain Jared Marino aged out and committed to Colgate University. Losing their captain leaves an obvious hole in their leadership group, however Head sees many of his teammates as players who can fill his role, “Jake Harrison has been here for four years, he’ll be one of the leaders again this year and Calvin Tilsley would be a good option for captain as well. [Tilsley] is a veteran guy and he understand the guys.” For himself, Head pledges to be a bigger voice in the dressing room this season saying, “Regardless if I have a letter or not, I’m going to try and be a leader to the young guys who need any help.”
60 Km North and the Vipers are battling for roster spots of their own. After losing their top 2 leading scorers to the NCAA; Jimmy Lambert (University of Michigan), and Brett Stapley (University of Denver), forwards such as Vernon born Connor Marritt, will be looking for an increased role on the team.
“I see a lot of guys who have the ability to step up and I think it’s going to be a healthy competition within the team to see who can fill their roles. I’m looking forward to put my foot in the ring for that”
For his team, Marritt is opportunistic about the upcoming season “As a team its always great to win, we’re really focused on the RBC cup. I think we have another really good team that can push all the way to there.”
The BCHL pre-season begins on August 22nd, to find the full schedule you can click here.