The Beaver Valley Nitehawks are faced with one of its largest rebuilds in recent history, but the project is progressing; the Nitehawks hammered out commitments with five players and added two new faces to its coaching staff this month.
The Hawks announced that Shane Drake and Danny Vlanich will join its coaching staff for the 2018-19 season. Drake, who played with the Nitehawks from 2000-02, joined assistant coach Bill Birks and Head Coach Terry Jones on the Hawks’ bench at the end of last season as assistant coach, and proved a good fit from the start.
“Shane will be running the forwards this year,” said Beaver Valley General Manager Jamie Cominotto. “He did a great job last year, coming in and learning how we did things. He did such a great job with the power play and penalty kill, he’s very creative, and we’re lucky to have him step up the way he has.”
Vlanich, a Trail native who played for the Nitehawks in 2010-11, will get the team in shape over the summer, and train the team throughout the season, in addition to assisting Mike Morissette as statistics and video coach.
“He’ll run the off-ice training, make sure guys are going to the gym, and really stay on top of that,” said Cominotto. “Any time we’ve really gone deep into a playoff run, we’ve really been on top of our fitness away from the rink, so that’s kind of Danny’s responsibility.”
With the addition of Vlanich, the Nitehawks hope to avoid the injury bug that plagued them all of last season, resulting in a third place finish in the Neil Murdoch Division, and a first round exit from the playoffs.
“Last year we may have been too relaxed with it … so we’re really happy to have Danny come in, and he’s really excited about it. It’s like injecting some new life into our coaching staff.”
The Nitehawks expect about eight to 10 players to return this season, leaving Cominotto and the rest of the staff looking to fill more than a dozen spots.
In addition to graduating players, the Nitehawks lost 18-year-old forwards Tommy McConnachie and Christian Macasso to university and will also likely see power forwards Bradley Ross and Aiden Jenner move on to the Junior A ranks, so adding some scoring punch was at the top of B.V.’s list.
On Tuesday, the Nitehawks took the first big steps, announcing the commitment of four forwards and one defenceman, all from the Alberta camp.
“Losing so many players up front, it gave us a bit of room to do this,” said Cominotto. “But still left a lot of opportunities for local players.”
The Nitehawks committed forwards Michael Hagen, Paul Leroux, Ryan Crisalli, and Aiden Craig-Steele, and defenceman Kyle Guenter.
Hagen, 18, played for Calgary minor hockey’s Midget AA Gold team last season scoring 28 goals and 50 points in 27 games. Hagen is a smaller player, but as his scoring output suggests, a tremendous puck handler and playmaker.
“He’s really skilled, probably one of the most skilled players we’ve seen in all our years over to Alberta. He’s just a really creative player and the puck just seems to find him and doesn’t ever seem to leave him.”
Leroux, a feisty and talented forward, also played AA Midget in Calgary with the CBHA Rangers, netting 17 goals and 29 points in 26 games, while racking up 52 minutes in penalties. Leroux played on a line with another Hawks commit, Ryan Crisalli, a diminutive but gifted setup man that scored nine goals and added 23 assists in 25 games with the Rangers.
“They’ve been teammates and played together for basically their whole life,” said Cominotto. “We just saw in Okotoks (spring camp) they were playing below the red line, cycling the puck, and they knew where each other was going to be … they were tremendously smart with the puck, it was a joy to watch.”
The Hawks also signed Fort St. John product Aiden Craig-Steele to the line up. A six-foot-one forward, Craig-Steele scored 17 goals and 55 points in 31 games with the Northern BC-Yukon Trackers ‘AA’ team in the Northern Alberta Midget Hockey League (NAMHL).
Guenter, the lone defenceman, was also a teammate of Leroux’s and Crisalli’s on the Rangers last season. At five-foot-seven, the Calgary product is a mobile d-man, intelligent and quick, with a deceptively hard shot.
The Hawks also acquired six-foot-five, 216-pound forward Matt Sparrow from the VIJHL Victoria Cougars as part of the trade for B.V. defenceman Kevan McBean. The 19-year-old Sherwood Park native scored six goals and 27 points in 42 games with Victoria last season.
“With adding these smaller players, adding a bit of size is something we felt we needed to do as well,” said Cominotto.
The Nitehawks’ additions are a good start to a long season, but nothing is certain until Junior A camps are done and the players return or move on.
Cominotto was impressed with local talent at the team’s spring camp in Fruitvale last month and expects potential Hawks like Nate Ingram, Kody Stewart, Jesse Ihas and others to compete for the many positions that remain come the Main Camp in August.
“We need to have spots available for players like this, local players to come in and make our team,” added Cominotto. “The local players will have lots of opportunity, and we’ve lost so many players we’re not going to fill all the levels with commits. We like to have the younger players from our area to come in and battle for these spots, so it should be an exciting time.”