The Cranbrook Bucks have added two more players to the roster, bolstering their forward ranks and adding a backstopper in between the pipes.
AJ Vasko, a forward, and Jacob Zacharewicz, a goaltender, have both committed to the team for next season, according to an announcement from the club on Monday.
Vasko, a 2002-born forward, played for the RINK Academy in Winnipeg while competing in the CSSHL last season where he scored 15 goals and collected 56 points in 31 games. He has played the last three seasons at the academy and captained his team this past year.
“Our staff is excited to add a player and person of AJ’s calibre to our hockey team for this season.” said Ryan Donald, the Head Coach and General Manager of the Cranbrook Bucks. “AJ represents a lot of the qualities that we look for in our players, enthusiastic, hard working and extremely competitive. This past season AJ was the captain of his team and it was obvious the more that we spoke with him that he would be a great fit for our team culture and the Cranbrook community.”
Zacharewicz played for Islanders Hockey Club of the NCDC — a U.S. collegiate development league on the East Coast — this past season, posting a .930 save percentage and 2.43 goals against average in 22 games. Hailing from Riverhead, NY, Zacharewicz, 19, is committed to Brown University’s NCAA Division 1 program for the 2022-23 season.
“Early in the roster building process it was important for us to identify a goaltender that was driven, highly competitive, and self motivated,” said Donald. “Jacob represents all of these things and more. With Jacob we are getting a goaltender that can step in and immediately give us a chance to win every night, while continuing to grow and evolved individually. He comes highly recommended from the coaching staff at Brown University where he is slated to enroll in the fall of 2022.”
Last week, the Bucks announced Ryan Donald will man the bench as the head coach and general manager of the BCHL’s newest franchise next season.
Donald, who has served as an assistant coach at Yale University for the last five years, has Jr. A experience as a defenceman in the Alberta Junior Hockey League in his playing days, before embarking on a minor pro career.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for me in a lot of different ways, professionally, to get involved with an organization at the ground level that has a great vision with the ownership, the community, and the support that’s already there,” said Donald, in a video press conference streamed online Tuesday morning.
Donald has signed a four-year contract, and will be coming to Cranbrook with his wife and two daughters once he wraps up his duties at Yale this season.
Nathan Lieuwen, the president and majority owner of the Bucks, said he preferred to have the head coach and general manger positions shouldered as one role, and highlighted Donald’s experience in the NCAA system as a player and coach.
“I definitely feel he’s the right person to lead this team, to build the hockey operations side of this franchise and to make us and elite franchise in this league, which I think Ryan can absolutely do,” Lieuwen said. “I’m very excited to work with him closely and see what we can do here.”
Donald said he wore many hats as an assistant coach with Yale over the last five years, which included recruiting players, and will bring that experience — along with the networks and relationships he’s built — to the Bucks.
“I’m hoping that’s one of the things that’s going to drive us forward and be able to get us going from Day One,” Donald said. “On all different aspects, coaching, being on the ice with the Division One hockey players for the last five years has given me a pretty good knowledge of what that player looks like and even the maturation from Day One through the end of their career — it changes, but you get to see what abilities and skills are required for that.
“When I move back to the Jr. A level, now you’re starting to see and hopefully working with our players, seeing them day-to-day, knowing what their habits are, their details, everything — lifestyle, nutrition, sleep, what they need to improve on in order to have success at that level and expect success at that level.”
The Bucks will play in the Interior Conference with the Trail Smoke Eaters next season, after the BCHL’s realignment split the 18-team league into the Coastal Conference and the Interior, each with nine teams.