Prior to the turn of the calendar to 2016, there were few signs to indicate that the West Kelowna Warriors might be a serious contender for a national junior A hockey championship.
When all was said and done, the Warriors had gone on a magical three-month run, which saw them win their first ever BCHL title, the Western Canada Cup and, ultimately, the RBC Cup championship.
The Warriors capped off the dream season on May 22 in Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. with a 4-0 victory over the host Bobcats in the national final.
While Mark Cheyne has seen more than a few good Warriors teams take to the ice in his nine seasons as owner of the B.C. Hockey League club, he said the 2015-16 group clearly stood out.
“We’ve had so many good teams in the past, good players, and good people, but I’ve never seen a group closer than this…there were no cliques, zero,” said Cheyne.
“Everybody got along and they played for each other. Our leadership was amazing, too. Our older guys did an unbelievable job, and there was never any quit in them.”
With the team’s core group in place—Kyle Marino, Kylar Hope, Brett Mennear, Jonathan Desbiens and Rylan Yaremko among them—head coach and GM Rylan Ferster added a number of key pieces during the course of the season, including size up front and on defence, and the solid goaltending of Matthew Greenfield and Keelan Williams.
The club hit its stride in the second half and lost just three regular season games after Jan. 1 to take on the look of a bona fide contender.
“Once we had our goaltending solidified, we liked our team, we thought we could compete with anyone,” said Ferster.
“We liked our team a lot, but we kind of flew under the radar, and that was just perfect for us, with the type of group we have.
“We’re a meat and potatoes team,” Ferster added. “We maybe looked skilled to some people, but our skilled guys work real hard. Skilled guys like Kylar (Hope) and Jonathan (Desbiens), they both played with separated shoulders (in Lloydminster) and didn’t let up.
“We had the kind of kids who bent but didn’t break and that was special to see.”
The biggest hurdle on the road to the RBC Cup may have been crossed in the second round of the BCHL playoffs, with West Kelowna finally finding an answer for the rival Penticton Vees.
Ferster, now in his sixth season with the Warriors, said the organization from top to bottom and side to side can take credit for the club’s first ever BCHL, Western Canada Cup and RBC Cup titles.
“To have success, everybody has to be on the same page,” said Ferster, who won a national junior A title as a player with Vernon in 1990. “It starts with Mark Cheyne, our owner, there’s no one more deserving of this.
“Then you have the office people, the volunteers, players…it really is like family, and it feels great.”