KIJHL play is paused into January, but there are still good things to cover. This week coaches were asked to choose a player who has surprised them with their play, or stood out in the games they have played so far.
Zach Ashworth has stood out to Castlegar Rebels coach-GM Carter Duffin.
“He’s one of our early commitments for the season. He’s a guy that came in with the right type of attitude, the right character to come into our room and every day competes and every day puts in every ounce of effort to improve himself. It has put him in some pretty good spots and given him some pretty good opportunities in game play.”
Chase Heat head coach Brad Fox wasn’t able to choose a player.
“There is no one person because of what they have all taken on with this pandemic in commitment,” says Fox. “You learn a lot about a young man’s character and will to become a hockey player when they are out of their comfort zone. Each and everyone on our roster has brought something to this that deserves to be rewarded collectively to keep everyone accountable and keep pushing forward to improve and excel. They have never been faced with this and probably never will again.”
In Columbia Valley, defenceman Dylan Malarchuk has surprised and impressed coach Briar McNaney.
“He has had some strong showings early on in the season which has allowed himself to display his skill set and hockey IQ. His style of play has been surprising in the way that he has significantly grown his offensive game to a point where he is a threat to the opposing team every shift he is on the ice.
“We are extremely happy with every one of our players up to this point,” continued McNaney.
Eric Van Loon has been the biggest surprise for the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
“Obviously he has two goals. He sees the ice tremendously well,” says coach-GM Bill Rotheisler. “When you are doing skill drills and things like that, you don’t quite get a good grasp. He’s able to spot guys and see things a couple steps before they happen. The first couple of times, OK, maybe he got lucky. Then you just see it consistently. He puts the puck in spots where guys are going to be. You start to realize it’s part of his DNA.”
Brady Stange made quite the impression with the Fernie Ghostriders. In five periods of action, the rookie from Red Deer, Alta., has five points. Stange was injured in the Ghostriders’ second game.
“We knew coming into the season that Brady would be a player we would rely on,” says coach-GM Jeff Wagner. “He’s a great athlete. He can play both a skill and physical brand and has a big frame (six-foot-four, 190 pounds) that helps him win 50/50 battles in tough areas of the rink. Our staff knew he had offensive tools as well, but to see him put up five points in a game and a half was something no one would have predicted.”
The absence of the defenceman has been felt in the dressing room, in practice and in games.
“We are hoping this break provides him time to get healthy and be back with the team once we resume play,” says Wagner.
Local product Ben MacFarlane has continued to impress following the Grand Forks Border Bruins main camp.
“After watching him in practice and off the ice, we knew that there was a lot of potential with him,” says coach-GM John Clewlow. “He is a solid, capable defenceman who has offensive upside. In the two games that he’s played, he’s shown us that we can trust him in our D-zone and also that if given more opportunity, there is no doubt that he will start producing. With his work ethic and off-ice presence, he has earned himself a role as an assistant captain.”
Gunnar Keith has been an impressive power forward for the Golden Rockets. Coach-GM Chuck Wight has seen that he has worked on improving his skill set in the extended off-season.
“He has played well as a left wing and centre, switching between both as needed,” says Wight. “His strength last season was the physical game and where I see the improvement is in his ability to play a heavy game with more speed. He has also worked his way into specialty teams and I look forward to seeing his play continue to improve.”
The Byemoor, Alta., product is in his second season with the Rockets. Last year he had two goals and seven points in 38 games.
Sixteen-year-old Zakery Anderson has been a pleasant surprise for the Kamloops Storm.
“He has stepped in immediately as a regular contributor for our team’s success. Generally as a 16-year-old you would look at your first year as a development year where you fight for every scrap of ice,” says Storm GM Matt Kolle. “Zak currently finds himself on a line (Brandon Toye and Brody Johnston) with great chemistry and they have contributed in all our games to date. Zak really shows a good understanding of the game and plays it right.”
In two games, Anderson has two points.
Spencer Horning has more than surprised the Kelowna Chiefs – he has excited them with his play.
“Spencer was an AP for us last season and we were only able to get him into one game,” says Chiefs coach Ken Law. “We knew he would play an integral role for us this season and he has made amazing growth since training camp.”
The Chiefs made him a centre and he was a natural with his vision and a complete 200-foot game.
“He has worked his way up to our top centre and we have confidence in putting him up against other teams’ top lines and know he will be solid in all zones.”
Law praised his work ethic saying it is contagious. Teammates love being on his line
“knowing he will help them find another gear.”
Tyler Russell has impressed Kimberley Dynamiters coach-GM Derek Stuart with his speed. It’s helped the second-year forward from Calgary be very effective on the forecheck.
“He won a lot of loose puck races, which has allowed him and his linemates to make plays and score some goals,” says Stuart. Russell has a goal and three points in two games.
“We played against him the past two years when he was in Beaver Valley and I don’t think I realized how good his two-way game was,” says Nelson Leafs assistant coach/GM Adam DiBella of Simon Nemethy. “The little aspects that he does on the ice are world-class. That’s what makes him so effective. That’s why he is producing for us.”
Nemethy, who had 16 goals and 39 points in 45 games with the Nitehawks, has two goals and six points in three games for the Leafs, who selected him in the Dispersal Draft after the Nitehawks opted out of the season.
“He takes care of his own end and plays the game the right way,” says DiBella. “Whoever is playing on his line seems to be having their best games as well. We gave him some pretty good wingers, some hard working wingers. He drives his line with his positional play. If you are not moving your feet, you will be behind him because he’s got breakaway speed.”
Defenceman Tenzin Bogardis approached North Okanagan Knights coach Dean McAmmond about positions on the team during the off-season. With an interest in making the squad, the Lake Country product liked playing forward, but asked which one would give him a better chance of earning a spot. McAmmond said likely on defence.
“He’s quite offensive. He could be one of our top forwards,” McAmmond laughed as Bogardis has two goals and three points in three games. “He sees the ice really well. He’s very unassuming on a big guy (5-10, 160 pounds). Very quiet. He played with us a little bit last year in the playoffs. He just really seems to understand the game. He loves to jump in the play. I guess that’s why he wanted to try out as a forward.”
Osoyoos Coyotes coach Carter Rigby decided to take a chance on Levi Lamotte of Cadillac, Sask., just outside of Swift Current. Rigby learned about Lamotte through his contacts when he played for the Broncos. Lamotte played senior AA last year and Rigby didn’t know what he was going to get.
“He’s a guy that at 18-years-old is a great kid. A good teammate,” says Rigby. “He’s a worker. He shows up every day and battles and competes. He’s good in the draw. He wants to be a player. He’s turned into a very good penalty killer and is very defensively sound.”
Curtis Gould has impressed the Princeton Posse. The 17-year-old local split last season between major midget and the zone AA team.
“We had big expectations for him coming into the year, but we’ve been really impressed with his energy and work ethic he has brought,” says Posse coach-GM Mark McNaughton. “Even just in our three games, he’s got some junior A interest and guys who are starting to watch him.”
Gould is showing he can be a physical presence on the back end already. Between that and his skating ability, he’s shown he’s ready to play junior hockey.
Cash Sawchyn in the eyes of Ryan Parent, the Revelstoke Grizzlies coach, is among the top players in the KIJHL.
“He’s always been one of our best players,” says Parent. “Now he’s showing he can really produce. He’s very confident this year. He’s been a staple since 18-years-old. Even with our championship team, a couple years ago I don’t know if we would have gone all the way without him. He’s just showing he can do it all. He has kind of assumed that leadership role. He just does it the right way all the time.”
Parent praised his attitude. He has returned and made himself so valuable in that he can play on any line. Sawchyn has four goals and six points in two games.
Sicamous Eagles rookie Rhett Walker has two goals in two games. That has come in limited ice time (six to 10 minutes a game).
“He’s one of those kids that he is going to give you everything he has every game,” says Gunn. “He’s not afraid to get into the dirty areas to get rewarded to score goals. He’s proved that in our first two games.”
Gunn says Walker has earned his chances through his sheer work ethic.
Ethan Grover, 20, has been leaned on by the Summerland Steam to bridge the gap between previous seasons and coaches to help create an atmosphere and culture that is inclusive, encouraging, and operates with a high level of integrity and accountability.
“This being his fourth year in the league, it’s a true testament to his commitment this year to returning and helping make the Steam a better place to play than when he first arrived,” says Steam coach-GM Nick Deschenes. “With the weight of his peers for guidance and support, he has also been able to be a big offensive contributor to the start of our season.”
Grover leads the Steam with two goals and five points in three games. His first year with the Steam in 2017-18, is his best offensive season with eight goals and 16 points in 44 games. Last season Grover returned to the Steam following a stint with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Neepawa Natives.