Forward Jonathan Desbiens is one of several key returning veterans for the BCHL's West Kelowna Warriors this season.

Forward Jonathan Desbiens is one of several key returning veterans for the BCHL's West Kelowna Warriors this season.

Warriors set for launch Friday

BCHL team looks to leadership group in 2015-16 as West Kelowna competes in strong Interior Division

The West Kelowna Warriors will kick off the 2015-16 B.C. Hockey League season Friday night at home to the Merritt Centennials. Face off at Royal LePage Place is 7 p.m. Here’s a preview look at what fans can expect from the latest edition of the Warriors:

Head coach and GM: Rylan Ferster (fifth season)

Last season: 29-21-0-8, fourth in the Interior Division. Lost in first playoff round to Penticton.

Key Returnees: F Liam Blackburn (22-51-73), F Jonathan Desbiens (27-27-54), F Kylar Hope (11-9-20), D Kristian Blumenschein (7-35-42) F/D Kyle Marino (3-15-18), D Rylan Yaremko (4-13-17) and F Brett Mennear (11-14-25).

New Faces: The Warriors have high hopes for D Jake Harrison (7-13-20), 16, a West Kelowna product who played with Pursuit of Excellence Academy in Kelowna last season.

F Paul Lovsin (19-31-50) joins West Kelowna from the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL.

F Garret Forster (17-28-45) is new to the Warriors but was one of the Victoria Grizzlies’ top producers last season.F Connor Sodergren (14-24-38) and F Quin Foreman (5-5-10) both come to the Warriors from Massachusetts, while F Reid Gunville (20-32-52) hails from Prince Albert, Sask. The three were effective playing on a line together in preseason.

G Daniel Manella (2.08 GAA, .927 save percentage) comes to West Kelowna after strong season of junior A hockey in Oakville, Ont., while G Forbes Polszay (2.67 GAA, .914 save percentage), from Arizona, played in three locales last season, including with the Colorado Rampage U18s.

Strengths: The Warriors have a formidable core of veteran leaders, including the team’s newly-appointed captain Marino, fellow returnees Hope, Mennear and Yaremko.

Last season’s leading scorer Blackburn, along with Desbiens, are expected to be the club’s offensive catalysts.

Blumenschein, Yaremko and Nicholas Rutigliano will lend experience to the team’s defensive corps.

If the two new goaltenders, Manella and Polszay, live up to their advanced billing, the Warriors should be in good stead between the pipes.As has been the case with Warriors’ teams of recent years, a persistent, workmanlike approach will be the key to success.

Coach’s quote (Ferster): “One thing I really like is our leadership group. We have people who understand what this league is about and what’s required to compete. I like our character, too, that goes hand-in-hand with leadership.

“Like every year, this will be a work in progress. It’s such a tight division, we just need to stay close, within striking distance and have the goal of making the playoffs.”


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