The Castlegar Rebels begin their quest for their first Junior B provincial championship at the Cyclone Taylor Cup in Comox tonight with Trail native Jamie Vlanich leading the charge.
The talented forward has been a thorn in the side of opposing teams throughout the Rebels’ playoff run to the KIJHL championship. At five-foot-nine, Vlanich’s size is not intimidating, but he plays big, and leads the team in penalty minutes in the playoffs. But more significantly, he is a steady contributor on the scoreboard, finishing the season second in points, 51, on the season, and third overall in the KIJHL playoff scoring.
“It’s just my work ethic, battle guys in the corner, kind of get to the big guys a lot of times when they are losing them,” said the 20-year-old forward.
Since winning in the second overtime of the seventh game against rival Beaver Valley Nitehawks, the Rebels have lost only once in their next two series, as they cruised to the Kootenay Conference title, 4-0, against Golden Rockets, before taking the KIJHL title, 4-1, against North Okanagan Knights.
“It (the win over B.V.) kind of just gave us confidence,” said Vlanich. “There were lots of ups and downs in that series and we learned from it as a group, and came together, and we just started rolling as a team.”
The Cyclone Taylor is a whole new challenge that begins today and goes through Sunday at the Comox Valley Sports Centre.
The KIJHL champion Rebels will play the host, Comox Valley Glacier Kings, tonight at 7:30 p.m., then take on the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League champs, Victoria Cougars, Friday at 3:30 p.m., before facing Pacific Junior Hockey League reps Richmond Sockeyes Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“We’re pretty pumped up, we get to go down there and play some pretty good teams so we’ll get to see what we’re made of here,” said Vlanich.
The Rebels have never been to the Cup, while the Victoria Cougars last hoisted it in 2007, and lost in double OT in last year’s Cyclone final to eventual Keystone Cup champions the Abbotsford Pilots. The Cougars may pose the toughest challenge for the Rebels, having lost once in regulation in 49 season games this year, then cruising through the playoffs, suffering two losses, on its way to its fifth VIJHL crown in nine years.
The Sockeyes are also considered strong contenders. Since joining the league in 1990, they have won four Cyclone Taylors and a Keystone Cup, the western Canadian champion, in 2009. Comox is no slouch either, losing to Victoria in the VIJHL final.
The Rebels are at a slight disadvantage, with the Island and Mainland teams able to ice 21-year-old players, while the KIJHL age limit is 20, yet Vlanich doesn’t believe it should hamper the Rebels chances.
“We have to just let loose offensively. There are older guys on their teams so I’m expecting them to be more offensive, so guys like me and Stuart Walton are going to have to step up even more.”
The Rebels will need continued strong goaltending from the tandem of Jordan Gluck and Connor Beauchamp, solid defence, and some dynamic play from forwards Stuart Walton, Travis Wellman, and Diego Bartlett, not to mention a healthy dose of grit, talent, and tenacity from Vlanich.
“We’ll just try to take it game by game. I don’t know if there is any time that I’m at my best, but I just try to be effective for the full 60 minutes,” he added.
The top two teams in the round robin will play in the final at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
C.T.C Notes: The Cyclone Taylor Cup is named after Fred ‘Cyclone’ Taylor, a prolific scorer and key player in the Vancouver Millionaires’ Stanley Cup win in 1915.