The Beaver Valley Nitehawks officially begin their quest to match last year’s Western Canadian Keystone Cup championship, as they take to the ice at the Beaver Valley Arena tonight to begin training camp for the 2014-15 season.
The Hawks will be hard-pressed to replace veterans like Ryan Edwards, Dallas Calvin, Archie McKinnon, Dan Holland, and Keenan Patershuck, but this year’s team will start with a solid foundation.
“We’ve got some younger guys that are ready to step up and take on different roles with the team this year, and we’re excited about the opportunity,” said Hawks coach and GM Terry Jones.
Of the potential returning players, a few will likely try for a roster spot in the Junior A ranks with BCHL or Alberta Junior Hockey League teams, but as of Tuesday, eligible players include high-end veterans like defencemen Walker Sidoni and Lyle Frank, and forwards Sam Barker, Jacob Boyczuk, Mitch Foyle, Taylor Stafford, and Sam Swanson.
The Hawks also signed 20-year-old forwards Andrew Miller of Trail and Braydon Horcoff of Prince Rupert. Both players will add some size and toughness to the Hawks lineup, while also chipping in on the scoreboard. The six-foot, 180-pound Miller played for the Kimberley Dynamiters last season picking up four goals and 16 points in 51 games, while racking up 81 minutes in penalties, and Horcoff, at five-foot-11 inches and 170 pounds, suited up with the Campbell River Storm, going 5-22-27 with 48 PIM last year, after playing two seasons with the Castlegar Rebels.
Jones also retooled his bench, bringing in former Trail Smoke Eater coach Jim Ingram as defensive coach, and sending Jamie Cominotto upstairs to assume assistant GM duties. Yale alumnus Kevin Limbert returns as offensive coach.
“Jim has tons of experience, and we’re so excited to have him involved,” said Jones. “He’s just such a great guy, and as soon as we talked about it, like Jim is just a natural fit, and he was excited he could fit it in with work, and we’re just extremely stoked to have him involved now.”
Around 60 skaters will take to the ice this week, and, following successful recruiting trips east, the camp will have a distinctly Albertan flavour.
The Nitehawks tapped the Wild Rose market last year and found success with the addition of players like Frank, Sheldon Hubbard, Braden Fuller and goaltender Brett Clark, all hailing from Grande Prairie. With the competition for B.C. players growing more fierce, the Nitehawks coaching staff developed good connections in Red Deer and Calgary and will see a lot of prospects coming from these areas, said Jones.
“The coaching staff has worked hard all summer with the recruiting process, and talked a lot about the things we need to do differently, and probably that we’re going to have to play a slightly different style. At the same time, on paper, we look at the guys that we have now and we think we’re at least equal to all the other teams, and that’s part of building the team and that’s the challenge that’s in front of us.”
The coaching staff will also look for veteran players to step up and take a leadership role, for as they proved last season, character does indeed build championships.
“When you are losing guys like Ryan, Archie, and Dallas, you have a void of leadership. The guys that we lost weren’t just good hockey players, they were really good people, so we have to fill that void of leadership and that’s the most important thing.”
There is always a measure of uncertainty in the early season, as team’s continue to build well into December. With Clark reportedly signed by the Smoke Eaters, goaltending will again be in question, but as the season progresses so will the team – with similar results in mind.
“Honestly, our goal is to try and repeat,” added Jones. “I’m not saying we will, but ultimately that is what we are setting out to do, that’s for sure.”
The Nitehawks will practice at 6 p.m. tonight, and 8-11 a.m. and 6-9 p.m. Wednesday to Friday. They will have a scrimmage with prospective Grand Forks Border Bruins players on Satruday at 7 p.m. but have yet to confirm any exhibition matches.