Chase Stevenson (left) and the West Kelowna Warriors were eliminated from the BCHL playoffs on Tuesday night in Merritt. - Image credit: Ken Reid/Greystoke Photography

Warriors’ season marked with adversity

Defending champs swept from BCHL playoffs by Merritt to end rollercoaster season

Last season, Rylan Ferster’s team played deep into the month of May and won a Canadian junior A hockey championship.

Ten months later, the coach and GM of the West Kelowna Warriors is doing his best to process an early exit from the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.

The Warriors’ 2016-17 brief postseason run ended on Tuesday night in Merritt, as the rival Centennials swept West Kelowna in four straight games.

In a season filled with adversity—from roster instability to key injuries to the possibility of the team being relocated—Ferster said his team coped as well as could be expected.

“I can’t fault our guys on their effort, there were very few times I questioned that, I thought they worked hard all year,” said Ferster, who is finishing up his sixth season with the club. “I thought we had more adversity this year than any other year I can remember, so I was proud of the kids.

“We had pretty good luck last year and won a national championship, and this year we didn’t have much at all, but that’s hockey. You don’t make excuses, you lick your wounds and move on.”

While the Warriors were relatively healthy early in the season, key injuries began to mount as the playoffs drew closer.

Perhaps the most crucial loss of all was that of captain Nicholas Rutigliano to a concussion. Without their inspirational leader in the lineup, the Warriors went 4-13, including 0-4 in the post season.

Puck luck clearly wasn’t on the Warriors’ side against Merritt either, as they suffered a pair of one-goal losses to open the series at home, including a 4-3 triple overtime setback in Game 2.

Still, Fertser gave credit where credit is due.

“We went into the playoffs pretty banged up and that’s a tough thing to do,” he said. “That really hurt us, but it’s not sour grapes. We were beaten by a good team in one of the best divisions in junior hockey and they were obviously very deserving.”

Adding to Ferster’s challenge was the fluctuation of his lineup on a weekly basis. Fifty-one players suited up for West Kelowna during the season, including eight goaltenders.

Also weighing on the Warriors since mid-January was the potential relocation of the club to another community following the 2016-17 season.

So when word came out last week that owner Mark Cheyne had found a group of investors to keep the team in West Kelowna, Ferster counted himself among the many who celebrated the news.

“It’s nice to see,” said Ferster, who has two years remaining on his contract with the Warriors. “This is a great place to coach and a great place to be a player. We play in a great division in a great league, there are just so many positives.

“I’m proud of the fact we were able to win a championship last season, to be the best in the country, that was a credit to everybody involved, right from Mark Cheyne on down.”

Based on the all the challenges the club faced this season, Cheyne said Ferster, his staff and the players all performed admirably.

“That was a tough season right from the start, they did a great job of keeping things together,” said Cheyne.

Ferster will be back on the ice in a little over a month when the Warriors host their spring camp April 21 to 23 at Royal LePage Place.

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