The Beaver Valley Nitehawks roster is looking flush and preening for the regular season as it heads into its main camp on Friday at the Cominco Arena.
The Nitehawks may have as many as 14 players returning from last year’s squad in addition to 2014 Nitehawk standout Braden Fuller, but Nitehawks coach and GM Terry Jones isn’t ready to raise the Keystone Cup just yet.
“On paper we feel really good about the guys that are going to be here, and excited about where we are, but then again you don’t play the game on paper,” said Jones.
The team also signed a pair of 17-year-olds, Blake Sidoni and Evan Gorman, earlier this month, and may need to fill up to 10 spots in the lineup.
“We’ve got other guys that we are definitely looking at to fill rolls, we have a lot of competition in camp for our remaining spots, there is a lot of good young players in town here, and from out of town too.”
With goaltender Drake Poirier expected to return, topping the Hawks’ priority list is to find a replacement for goalie Carson Schamerhorn who went to the BCHL’s Alberni Bulldogs. Poirier actually had better numbers than Schamerhorn last season, and will in all likelihood be the teams starting goalie. The Fruitvale native had a solid year, appearing in 28 games with 19 wins and seven losses, a 2.88 goals against average, and a .908 save percentage.
Defenceman Sheldon Hubbard was expected to return on the blue line but has since notified Jones that he is unable to due to work commitments, and with Tyler Hartman, McKoy Hauk and Brody Jennings trying for positions with junior A teams, the Hawks may require a couple defencemen and up to four forwards.
“We’re looking to upgrade and make our team better so even veteran guys not coming into camp ready to go – we want to win, we want to be competitive so that’s part of the process.”
One of the key guys the Hawks will look to lead the team is defenceman Lyle Frank. The 20-year-old Grande Prairie native is loaded with character, and a solid stay-at-home defender, who netted four goals and 16 assists in 49 games last season.
“Lyle Frank is going to be our captain,” said Jones. “He’s an outstanding young man, a mentor for young kids in our community, and we’re looking for Lyle to be our catalyst in terms of our leadership core. We’re also looking for other veteran guys to emerge in terms of our assistant captains.”
Skill-wise the Hawks will miss leading scorer Mitch Foyle who has committed to play in the Junior A ranks in Melville, Sask. Jones says he’ll look to Fruitvale natives Sam Swanson and Kyle Hope to be healthy and step up production from last year’s numbers and expect Allan and Michael Pruss, Jace Weegar, McKoy Hauk, and Devin Nemes to fill bigger roles.
“It’s a process, and that’s why we have a coaching staff that works together to make those decisions. We have some fresh eyes that’s what were looking for in (new assistant coach) Bill Birks to bring to our situation, and I think that is a really good thing.”
The addition of the former Smoke Eater coach is a strong complement to an already healthy coaching staff with assistant Kevin Limbert on the bench, as well as assistants David Pasin and Mike Morrisette, and Asistant GM Jamie Comminotto.
“You know our expectations,” said Jones. “But what’s the basis and the foundation for that is just creating a good team and creating our culture and from there let’s see how good we can become . . . everyone on our team has to be on board with what we’re about, so once we get to that point then we can start to build and see how good we can become.”
The Nitehawks will start their season on September 11 in Spokane, with their first home game on Sept. 12 against the Kelowna Chiefs. Their first goal is to open the season on a winning note, unlike last year where they went winless in their first five games and then rolled to a 35-12-1-4 record to win the Neil Mudoch division title before falling to the Kimberley Dynamiters in the Kootenay Conference final.
“Ideally we’d like to win our league, but we know the competition in our division and league is strong, I think there’s a lot of parity in our league and every year it seems to get that much more difficult in order to do so.”
The Nitehawks first exhibition game goes Monday at the Beaver Valley Arena against Spokane at 7 p.m.
The camp goes on Friday from 5-6:30 p.m. and 6:45-8 p.m. Saturday from 7:15-8:15 a.m., 8:30-9:30 a.m. with a goalie clinic from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m, scrimmage from 12:45-2:15 p.m. and 2:30-4 p.m. Sundays ice times go at 8-9:30 a.m. and 10-11:30 a.m.