The Beaver Valley Nitehawks are on a mission this season to skate through the road-block that has been the Kimberley Dynamiters the past two years as they take to the ice at the Cominco Arena tonight to kick off its training camp for the 2016-17 season.
The Nitehawks will have about 40 skaters at camp, with a strong number of returning players, pending success at Jr. A camps like the Trail Smoke Eaters, which wrapped up on Thursday.
“The expectations are the same every year,” said Nitehawks assistant GM Jamie Cominotto. “We always think that we’re going to win.”
The Nitehawks captured the Neil Murdoch Division and Kootenay Conference championships, but bowed out in the KIJHL final the last two years, losing to the Kimberley Dynamiters. Cominotto believes the difference in last year’s final was losing talented goal-scorer and relentless competitor Braden Fuller. While pure goalscorers are always on the list, size also hurt the team in the finals against the bigger Dynamiter team.
“We always try and get just a little bit bigger,”said Cominotto. “We won everything three years ago, and you always look to have that recipe. We had Dallas Calvin, Ryan Edwards, and Danny Holland and we’re never going to duplicate that, but you need guys that can score on any given night, but mainly we’re trying to get a little bit bigger and not lose speed.”
The Nitehawks will also look to establish their goaltending, sooner than later, and avoid last year’s troubles when the goaltending tandem fluctuated through the early season due to illness and injury. Talon Kramer came in mid-season and solidified the position, and is expected to start and carry much of the load over the revamped 47-game schedule. In addition to Kramer, about 10 other players are expected to return from last year’s squad, and the Hawks look in good shape to contend for its eighth KIJHL title.
“Any time you’re guaranteed a number-one goalie with the talent of Talon Kramer you’re in good shape,” said Cominotto. “I’m excited, with the possibility of needing only three or four forwards, like depth guys, is a position I don’t think I’ve ever been in with the Nitehawks because usually you’re replacing six or seven guys.”
But perhaps the Nitehawks’ greatest asset is their stability behind the bench with coach and GM Terry Jones returning for his 20th year, and assistants Bill Birks and Jeremy Cominotto handling defence and forward coaching duties respectively.
“You look at our coaching staff and Terry has been doing this for longer than anyone in our league, probably anyone in our division combined,” said Cominotto. “Then you have Bill Birks a former Junior A guy and the intensity that he brings, and then the addition of Jer, he’s been through so many championships as a player and coach. Just our team and our structure, I think we have a good recipe every year going in and that’s key.”
The Nitehawks camp goes tonight with practices from 6-7:15 and 7:30-8:45 p.m., and Saturday from 11a.m. to 12:15 p.m., 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. and scrimmages from 6-7:15 p.m. and 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. On Sunday the Hawks camp goes from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and 12:30 to 1:45 p.m.
Following the camp the Nitehawks embark on an ambitious exhibition schedule with seven games in eight days with their first home game going Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m. against the Nelson Leafs. The Hawks open the regular season on Sept. 9.