Tami Quan Photo
As Kootenay International Junior Hockey League teams cruise into the final half of the season and make a push towards a playoff spot, the KIJHL Notebook dives into who the most improved player (s) are on teams. Pitter-patter, let’s get at ‘er.
Doug Birks Division
“Evan Douglas is a player we have seen tremendous growth from,” said Kamloops Storm Head Coach Geoff Grimwood. “He works extremely hard on and off the ice and we are starting to see the results.
“His confidence with the puck, decision-making, and compete levels are all really strong right now,” added Grimwood.
The Revelstoke Grizzlies have seen a lot of growth on their defence, especially from Kaleb West and Carson Reinson and at forward, it has been Jake Wallace. General Manager Parent said Wallace has improved in all areas.
“He’s a really smart player who started with a basic role and has expanded into the power-play and is one of our best penalty-killers. He’s made himself a real asset to our team. You give him a little bit more and he tries to do it very well and with detail.”
West and Reinson came from the midget level and in all areas have focused and worked hard to show daily improvement.
“They are strong anchors on our backend,” said Parent.
Matteo Bordin of the Chase Heat is committed and is “so driven to be better every single day that this year he’s starting to become a real solid junior player.”
“At 17-years-old and taking on his education, when I look at all the things he has done and maintained, and continued to improve on, it’s been very impressive,” said Head Coach Brad Fox. “He is just going to get better. For a 17-year-old, he’s really a student of the game. He listens with complete concentration, focus and he applies what he hears and he’s very resilient.”
Tyler Lalikeas of the 100 Mile House Wranglers has steadily improved, despite always being good and a player that Head Coach Dale Hladun has always liked.
“He’s become so important to us and we even made him into a forward because we were so shorthanded and he was one of our best forwards as well. He’s even become one of our leaders and wears a letter now. His development and his character has been shining.”
Another is Solomon Oldham, who Hladun described initially as a depth winger.
“He has been putting in the extra effort. I thought his play away from the puck was very lacking early in the season – his decision-making was random. He has made a mental commitment to doing the right thing,” said Hladun. “When he does that, Solomon has improved a ton. He has been a key guy for us.”
Alex Smith went from a bubble player to a key piece for the Sicamous Eagles.
“He came into camp as an unknown. His work ethic, he has a great attitude, and is always putting in 110 per cent to everything he does, he definitely has elevated his game,” said Assistant Coach Rob Sutherland. “He is one of our top guys now.”
Smith, who has nine goals and 11 points in 25 games earned a spot because of his smooth skating and Sutherland said possesses good size at 6-1, 165 pounds.
“His skating ability is what we initially saw at camp. He has a nice long stride. He can get moving really quick.”
Sutherland has seen improvement in his puck-handling, his penalty kill has been phenomenal. His two shorthanded goals rank him seventh in the league.
Bill Ohlhausen Division
Jack Henderson and Levi Brewer have impressed Osoyoos Coyotes Head Coach Carter Rigby throughout the season.
“He has worked on his defensive game, he’s blocked shots, he has played a lot for a rookie,” said Rigby of Brewer. “He’s a guy that as a staff we can trust out there and play in the right situation, kill penalties, make the first pass. He battles and works. He’s a guy that has earned everything he got. He makes it tough to keep him out of the lineup. I think we’re a lot stronger with him on the backend.
“Jack Henderson has taken his game to the next level,” Rigby continued. “He has always been pretty good, but his numbers this year are fantastic. It’s just because he is starting to play more of a 200-foot game. He is caring about the D-zone. He’s killing penalties and putting points on the power-play. He has improved a lot in a leadership role.”
Kelowna Chiefs Head Coach Travers Rebman has seen some significant improvement in a number of guys throughout the lineup and he feels that just about everyone has raised their game and is making individual improvements in different areas.
“Our D-core as a group has made real strides in the way they defend down low in our zone and the way they engage on the forecheck,” he said. “Those things are big parts of our team’s game. All our older guys have grasped it well and we’ve really been impressed with the contributions and improvement of our young D-men Ben Edwards and Jacob Rausch. Now that we have some team concepts in place, we are working more on individual skills and hoping to see that translate into some offence and some breakthroughs for our forward guys individually.”
Summerland Steam Head Coach and General Manager Mark MacMillan said they had lots of players improve during the first half. Austin Cameron, who missed some games when MacMillan began coaching, “just put his nose to the grindstone, worked really hard and is earning more and more ice time.”
“He’s becoming a really good penalty killer for us and a really reliable player,” said MacMillan.
On the backend, Mason Ouchi is likely their most improved defenceman.
“He just works hard every day, shows up ready to work every day. He was in and out of the lineup a little bit. Never complained. You can see the improvements in his game and now he is a big part of our team.”
He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and when he does, MacMillan said it doesn’t affect Ouchie too much and he goes back out there and plays his role.
“Our team has come a long way in a few months,” said MacMillan. “I don’t think any guy hasn’t improved. There are tons of guys working hard.”
Luke Rishaug, Tyson McCaig, and Brock Holliday of the North Okanagan Knights stuck out for Head Coach and General Manager Liam McOnie.
“The biggest thing I saw improve in each of their games was poise and patience with the puck,” he said. “They all slowed the game down a bit and began to make smarter and simpler plays.”
Lucas Sadownyk of the Princeton Posse leads their blueline in points and Head Coach Mark Readman has seen his confidence grow and as well as being assertive with the puck.
“Having confidence has allowed him to be able to make plays and move his feet in transition and buy some time, by avoiding pressure,” said Readman. “The more comfortable he was able to settle in with the team, he has gotten better. Now he is playing a role on the special teams and contributing more on 5-on-5.”
Eddie Mountain Division
Jonah Fournier of the Columbia Valley Rockies came into the season with Junior A speed and physicality.
“He needed to grow the systematic part of his game as well as his playmaking and we feel that he’s progressed faster than what we have anticipated throughout the year,” said Rockies Head Coach Briar McNaney. “Where he was a month ago, we were hoping that he would be at that stage at the end of the season. We’re pretty proud of the progress he has made and he’s worked hard to get towards where he is today. He will succeed in the future because of his work ethic.”
McNaney added that every player has made a lot of progress. They have worked hard and put the effort in on and off the ice.
The Kimberley Dynamiters have seen a large majority of the players show improvement since the start. Two that stand out to Head Coach and General Manager Derek Stuart are forwards Christian Mealey and Kade Leskosky.
“Christian has figured out where to go when he doesn’t have the puck in the offensive zone and has improved a lot in terms of always being ready for the puck,” he said. “Kade seemed to figure out how we wanted him to play earlier in the year, but he was very inconsistent. Since early December, he has played extremely consistent and has been a big part of us finding our scoring touch. I can’t remember the last game Kade didn’t get a point.” (The last time was Nov. 20 – since Nov. 26 he has four goals and 20 points in 13 games.)
Captain Kyle Klein and Scott Sinclair of the Fernie Ghostriders have seen growth in their game as they have really come on.
“Both guys have become fantastic leaders for our group and also just their on-ice play,” said Head Coach and General Manager Ty Valin. “They have really become defensively minded. They have also learned how to control the power-play and start running the power-play, which has improved drastically over the last month.”
Both have a desire to focus on defence and Valin said they have really put the work in, the commitment to play good defensively every night.
The Creston Valley Thunder Cats have seen improvement from many players who have come a long way. However, two stand out to Head Coach and General Manager Bill Rotheisler. Riley Kostering “comes into practice prepared to do two things: one, being coachable and willing to learn and two, ready to outwork anyone else on the ice almost every day.”
“One of the hardest workers in our group, and has developed one of the quickest releases and best shots as well as being exceptionally strong on his feet, and reads the game at a very elite level,” said Rotheisler.
Adam Redding is one of the most improved guys that has turned into one of their most impactful forwards.
“Adam came into our program and had to change a lot in his game and figuring out how to use his skill more consistently and in the right areas,” he said. “ He has worked hard at becoming better and has been taught well in a lot of areas, and as a result he loves to shoot the puck. Adam has been committed to continuing to understand the game, and putting him in better spots to be able to take advantage of his desire to shoot.”
Kade Cochlan helped the Golden Rockets by moving from forward to defence when the team sustained several injuries.
“He played a lot of minutes for us in October and November and now we have got him back at forward and he is starting to really shine,” said Head Coach and General Manager Chuck Wight. “It’s good to see his perseverance and he has improved his game on both sides of the puck. I think that’s probably what helped him and also lots of minutes early on as a first-year player, especially at a position he wasn’t familiar with. It’s great to see him evolve.”
Neil Murdoch Division
Nelson Leafs Assistant Coach Adam DiBella said Seamus Boyd has become a very reliable defensive player.
“We can rely on him to anchor any line that he’s playing on,” DiBella said. “He’s now playing a more mature game.”
Ryland Mennie had to adjust his game and learn how to play at this level.
“His positioning and hockey IQ reflect his improvements. He seems to make the right hockey play on a regular basis now,” said DiBella.
Spencer Dixon-Reusz is one of the most coachable and hard-working players on the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
“He is just a fantastic teammate,” says Head Coach and General Manager Terry Jones. “His biggest asset is his skating and he is gaining more confidence with his overall defensive position and offensive skills. He is a joy to coach.”
Castlegar Rebels rookies Aidan MacNeill, Jayson Martin, Tanner Nyland and Leo Chartrand have made big strides.
“MacNeill has improved a lot and become a steadier and more reliable defender,” said Head Coach and General Manager Arnie Caplan.
Martin is a forward Caplan has seen step up his game and his progress has been evident.
“He is playing with more confidence and has been used in more important situations,” said Caplan. “His exceptional work ethic is paying off.”
Nyland is a forward who is starting to really establish his identity as a solid player in the league.
“He has become an excellent penalty killer and has been playing his role well,” said Caplan.
Chartrand, another forward, was unsure about his hockey future.
“He has been fully committed and has improved his overall game lots.” says Caplan. “He has also been an exceptional penalty killer and has been getting better as the season has progressed.”
Grand Forks Border Bruins Head Coach and General Manager David Hnatiuk said from top to bottom, he has seen improvement in each player and now they are starting to see more regular execution with systems.
“Captain Ray Warrack has been on a steady incline all season. From his leadership role to producing offensively, executing systems, and his defensive and special teams play improves each week,” said Hnatiuk. “His hard work and dedication to getting to the next level has motivated him and propelled his game.”
On the back end, their defence continues improving, especially Brydon Bell, who has logged big minutes and is finding balance between being an offensive D-man and taking care of his defensive zone responsibilities.
Between the pipes, Hnatiuk feels he has a great tandem.
“Ethan Shebansky has been a solid goalie all season,” said Hnatiuk. “His drive to reach the next level is evident as he competes hard every day at practice and wants to win. Ethan gives us an opportunity each night.
“Justin Dueck has also been solid in net for us and has had some big nights and kept us in many games,” he continued.