Around the BCHL: Youth trumps experience for Chilliwack and Salmon Arm

Around the BCHL is a look at goings-on in the BCHL and the junior A world.

Welcome to the October 18, 2018 edition of Around the BCHL.

Starting today with some interesting research from the desk of Jacob Bestebroer.

The Chilliwack Chiefs scout crunched the numbers this week to see who the youngest teams in the BCHL were. The Chiefs and Salmon Arm Silverbacks tied for that distinction, each with an average age of 18.4 years.

Chilliwack is leading the league with a 12-4-0-0 record and Salmon Arm is a solid 6-6-1-0, proving that you can be competitive with youthful roster.

Seventeen year old Harrison Blaisdell is one of the kids helping the Chiefs exceed expectations.

The flipside of the coin is the Cowichan Capitals and West Kelowna Warriors.

“The Cowichan Valley Capitals are proving that being older does not guarantee success,” Bestebroer wrote in his bi-weekly Chilliwack Progress column. “They are the oldest team in the BCHL, tied with West Kelowna, with an average age of 19.2 and they currently own the worst record in the 17 team circuit at 2-10-1-1.”

West K currently sits seventh and last in the Interior division with a 6-7-0-1 record.

I wrote Tuesday that the Surrey Eagles are, to me, the most disappointing team so far.

But many fans would put the Caps atop that list. With Mike Vandekamp running the show, there was an expectation that Cowichan would start trending upwards. Instead, they’re on pace to finish below their 2017-18 record of 10-41-5-0, which is really, really, really hard to do.

Vandekamp’s former team, the Nanaimo Clippers, would also be on the most disappointing list.

A perennial Island division power, the Clips are off to an awful start. They have trouble scoring, with only four teams putting the puck in the net with less frequency, and they can’t defend. Only the woeful Surrey Eagles and leaky Merritt Centennials have given up more goals in early season action.

There’s plenty of time to turn things around, but right now the Island division looks to have two quality teams (Victoria and Powell River), one mediocre entry (Alberni Valley) and two potential trainwrecks (Nanaimo and Cowichan Valley).

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The high-flying Merritt Centennials were at it again Wednesday night, putting five on the scoreboard in a 5-0 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

The Cents got goals from Vincent Guy, Nick Granowicz, Mathieu Gosselin, Ben Ward and Nicholas Wicks.

Merritt’s Mathieu Gosselin (left) in action against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

Merritt now has 69 goals on the season (average of 4.31 per game), 15 more than the next highest scoring team, the Victoria Grizzlies. It’s an amazing offensive turnaround for the Centennials, who were one of the league’s lowest scoring teams in 2017-18. Merritt had 185 goals last year in 58 games, averaging 3.19 per match.

The offensive renaissance is being led by players who were already on the roster.

Bradley Cocca leads the entire BCHL in scoring so far with eight goals and 24 points in 16 games after producing eight goals and 23 points in 44 games last year. Mathieu Gosselin is fifth in league scoring with 10 goals and 20 points in 16 games after posting 11 goals and 33 points in 53 games last season. Nick Granowicz, Nicholas Wicks and Brendan Schneider are also inside the top 20 in BCHL scoring, and Granowicz is the only one who didn’t play in Merritt in 2017-18.

The Centennials are proof that a lot of improvement can come from within if a team dedicates proper resources to coaching and player development.

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A little news off the transaction wire as the Alberni Valley Bulldogs bring back Mackenzie Wight.

The 19 year old Burnaby native last played for the Dawgs in 2016-17, producing six goals and 12 points in 27 games, including this OT winner against Nanaimo.

The forward went from Alberni Valley to Swift Current, playing 68 regular season and 32 playoff games for the Western Hockey League’s Broncos.

Wight helped the Broncos win the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions last season and he played in three Memorial Cup games in Regina.

“Mackenzie is a high-compete, high-energy forward who will get involved physically and help us be better in all three zones,” AV head coach Matt Hughes said in a team news release. “He’s excited to be back in the Alberni Valley and we’re thrilled to add a player with considerable playoff experience and leadership skills who was very recently part of a championship team.”

At the same time, the Dawgs had a player depart unexpectedly. Acquired just 12 days ago from the Powell River Kings, defenceman Ben Raffler has opted to retire.

“We respect Ben’s decision to move on from junior hockey and wish him every bit of success in the future,” Hughes said. “We’re disappointed to lose a player who we know would have been a great contributor and leader for us, but it was clear that he’s a very mature, focused young man who is ready to move on to other pursuits.”

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Some scholarship news as Trail captain Braeden Tuck commits to Sacred Heart University.

The 20 year old is in his third season with the Smokies, collecting 37 goals and 95 points in 147 regular season and playoff games.

Trail captain Braeden Tuck in action against the West Kelowna Warriors.

“Our entire organization couldn’t be more of proud of Braeden for signing a NCAA Division I scholarship,” said Smokies head coach/general manager Jeff Tambellini in a team news release. “He is the leader of our team on and off the ice and his skill set, character and determination will make him an outstanding college hockey player.”

The Sacred Heart Pioneers play in the Atlantic Hockey Conference and the roster is dotted with BCHL grads. The list includes Colin Bernard (Langley), Mike Lee (Penticton), Jason Cotton (West Kelowna), Alex Bates (Wenatchee), Ryan Steele (Alberni Valley), Marcus Joseph (Nanaimo) and Austin McIlmurray (Coquitlam).

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Off to a sluggish start, the West Kelowna Warriors have started making moves.

The team made three transactions this week, acquiring two players and shipping out one.

The Warriors sent futures to the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits for 19 year old forward Eric Olson. Olson played for the NAHL’s Philadelphia Rebels last season, producing nine goals, 20 points and 119 penalty minutes in 56 regular season games.

“Eric is strong two way player who we expect will add some veteran experience and leadership to our dressing room,” West K head coach/general manager Geoff Grimwood said in a team news release.

The Warriors added a recent Western Hockey League cut, signing 18 year old defenceman Kelvin Hair. Hair played 30 games with the Kelowna Rockets last season, and Grimwood expects him to bring size (six-foot-three, 192 pounds) and puck-moving ability to the blueline.

To make roster room, West K dealt 18 year old defenceman James Philpott to the AJHL’s Drumheller Dragons.

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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