Rookies are once making an impact among the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League points leaders. On the skaters side, five of the Top 10 are first-year players – Zach Baumann and Tie Schumacher from Spokane, Owen Dewitt and Hayden Evans from Sicamous Eagles and Tysin Mulligan from the Columbia Valley Rockies. It’s impressive to see the numbers these players are producing. While Schumacher is noted as a rookie, he did play last season in the North American 3 Hockey League, his first year of junior.
As for goalies, three are in the top-10 for goals against average – Jaiden Jakubowski of the Rockies, Dario Cantini of the Creston Valley Thunder Cats and Gabe Osmond of the Princeton Posse. In the wins category, four cracked the top-10 with Nathan Preston of the Posse at No. 6 with five wins. Jakubowski, Ryder Ponto of the Kimberley Dynamiters and Osmond of the Posse round out the top-10.
Now into the Notebook.
Eddie Mountain Division
Kaelen Shelton and Tysin Mulligan collected three points in the Columbia Valley Rockies’ three games last week helping the team win two of their three games. Mulligan, a rookie from Rocky Rapids, Alberta, leads the team with 10 goals and 17 points in 14 games.
Rookie Oleg Bitus matched Shelton’s two goals in three games. Both his came against the Kimberley Dynamiters. The product of the Los Angeles Jr. Kings U18AAA program scored his first junior goal Oct. 14 against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats. Head Coach-GM Taylor Sincennes said Bitus has been putting in a lot of work.
“I think it took him a little to settle in,” said Sincennes. “He’s working away from the rink and showing up shooting pucks. He has rented ice on his own time to get better and is doing the small things to create offence. It’s starting to click for him in the last week or so.”
Hudl Instat information shows that Bitus averages 13:05 of ice time a game with 1:08 on the power-play.
Sincennes has been very happy with his team’s performance as they have won seven of their last 10 games.
“We are playing better and better every week and it’s good to see that we got the benefit of a hot start and get to improve while having a winning record,” he said.
Tayler Haggerty had a three point weekend for the Fernie Ghostriders as they won both their games on the weekend over Kimberley and Beaver Valley. Haggerty has 12 points in 12 games and is tied with Kyler Watson for the team lead in goals with seven. Goalies Nick Kynyk and Aiden Kruhlak earned wins.
Head Coach Ty Valin says that Haggerty has been coming on all season and is embracing his captaincy.
“He’s doing the little things right. He’s our offensive juggernaut right now,” said Valin, as Haggerty is second in points with 12 in 12 games. “Him and Andrew Kennedy. The way he contributes, he understands he’s going up against top-pairing defencemen every night and he embraces the challenge.”
Valin said Kennedy, a defenceman, is averaging 1.08 points per game. He is tied with Max Chakrabarti for second in points with 13 in 12 games.
“He’s having a hell of a good year,” said Valin.
Tristan Weill had two goals, including an OT winner, and an assist as the Kimberley Dynamiters lost to Fernie and defeated the Columbia Valley Rockies. Weill leads the league with 22 points in 12 games. His 11 goals ties the league lead with Creston Valley Thunder Cat Luke Chakrabarti.
Head Coach Derek Stuart said Weill took charge on Saturday against the Rockies, especially in the third period. He kept the puck on his stick in the offensive zone and took it to the net.
“His offensive game speaks for itself. We’re more than happy with that,” said Stuart. “Definitely he’s a bit more responsible and more of a leader.”
Stuart has made a couple of moves to strengthen their roster as they look to defend their KIJHL Teck Cup championship. On Oct. 14, Stuart added Braycen Dube, a Cranbrook native, from the Valley Wildcats in the Maritime Junior Hockey League. Dube had 11 points in 48 games with the Wildcats and Summerside Western Capitals last season. He recorded his first Dynamiter goal in his fourth game against the Rockies.
“He’s a talented, offensive player,” said Stuart.
On Wednesday, the Nitros announced on their social media the addition of defenceman Callan Valstar from the Kindersley Klippers for future considerations.
“He upgrades our defensive core and gives us an experienced player who was a key member of the Calgary Flames U18AAA championship team last year,” said Stuart. “I really like what we have here, but any opportunity we get to improve our team, especially with hosting the Junior A championship in April, we’re going to take. This is all geared to winning the KIJHL championship.”
Stuart added he has interest from other players looking to play there because they are hosting the championship.
Eight players scored for the Creston Valley Thunder Cats in their games, a 4-3 OT loss to Columbia Valley, and a 5-1 win over Golden. Brendan Kindlein, Luke and Max Chakrabarti led with three points.
As mentioned earlier, Max is tied for second among defenceman for points in the league and Head Coach Brad Tobin said the Surrey native is definitely an offensive blueliner.
“He understands the situation and tries to exploit weaknesses in the opposition,” said Tobin. “He’s become bigger and stronger over the summer, so he uses his size more, while protecting the puck. Defensively, he can always improve his battle level in the corners and around the net.”
Cade Cochlan scored his first goal of the season for the Golden Rockets in their 5-1 loss to Creston Valley. Prezton Stewart leads the Rockets with nine points in 11 games. This month in their five November home games, the Rockets will wear community jerseys that are a tribute to their Indigenous community. Four players – Draeden Bear, Jake Yakubowski, Nathan Andrew and recently acquired Deegan Wapass will have their Indigenous names on their name bars.
Once the month is over, the jerseys will be auctioned off with funds going towards the Rockets community team fund.
“The community fund is used to help people or businesses within our community that may need financial help through donations,” said Cruz Chiappa, the Rockets video analytics coach and trainer. “There is also a donation made to the cause that we raise awareness for that month. This year it is the local Métis community.”
You can read more about this on the KIJHL website.
Neil Murdoch Division
Five players (Roan Crowe, Joel Smyth, Nathan Simm, Tim Josza and Ollie Clement) scored two goals as the Beaver Valley Nitehawk won two of their three games last week. Crowe leads the group with seven goals, while they have four players with 10 points or more.
Nitehawks Head Coach Terry Jones is very happy with their team depth.
“We’re being tested a little bit right now with injury. I just feel when we’re in tight games, it’s important that we manage those games the right way,” he said. “Our power-play is spread out and we hope we can get everybody involved and keep our offence balanced.”
They play Spokane next and Jones knows that will be a tough game.
“When you have a good record, others in the league are up for you. We’re getting everyone’s best and so we just hope we’re amped up and ready to go,” said Jones. “It’s always a tough game in Spokane. We need all four lines going. That’s the key to our success.”
Jace Kramer and Joshua Gamble led the Castlegar Rebels with three points to help the team collect three of four points from a win over Chase and a shootout loss to Kamloops. Jordan Brunham led with two goals and is fifth on the team with four goals.
Head Coach Nicholas Headrick said Brunham has “been a pleasant surprise for our team this year.”
“As a 16-year-old, he isn’t afraid to battle bigger, older opponents,” said Headrick. “He’s contributed offensively lately with timely goals and has earned everything he’s been given this season.”
Keanan Pearman and Jace Koole led the Grand Forks Border Bruins with four points to help the team win both its games against Nelson and Chase in a shootout. Pearman is now second on the team with 12 points in 12 games. Ben Edwards recently returned to the Border Bruins from the WHL’s Victoria Royals. Edwards collected two assists against Nelson.
Spokane Braves Head Coach Darin Schumacher made some line changes to their roster and felt they did well Friday and Sunday.
“We learned some tough lessons on Saturday and didn’t prepare properly for the game,” said Schumacher, as they lost 9-3 to Kelowna. “We bounced back well Sunday and came together as a team.”
Schumacher is seeing the team come together and learning how to be players in the KIJHL, adding it takes a 24/7 commitment to find success at this level. They have learned lessons the hard way, but he insists they would have it no other way.
“This league is not for everyone, it is very competitive, physical and full of talent,” he said. “The players that work through the adversity will be rewarded.”
Cameron Oien led the Braves with five points, including three goals, as they won one (6-2 over North Okanagan) of three games, losing to Kelowna and Princeton. Oien now has six goals and nine points in 13 games.
Schumacher said Oien is a great teammate who is always thinking about how he can help his team succeed.
“It was nice to see him get rewarded for his dedication. He works hard on his shot and is dangerous in the slot and his teammates are always looking for him,” said Schumacher. “He makes great puck decisions and uses his teammates well. “
Aidan Turner led the Nelson Leafs with three goals in their three losses last week. Head Coach Briar McNaney said the Calgary product is getting better each day. He always arrives at the rink ready to work and it’s showing, and his teammates are following suit.
With 12 points in 12 games, Turner is contributing as the Leafs coaches hoped and leads the team in points.
“We feel he’s easily one of the better players in this league,” said McNaney.
Bill Ohlhausen Division
Tyson Horiachka has 12 points in 10 games for the Princeton Posse and credits playing with Ty Russell and Dayton Nelson for helping him produce.
“They are two elite offensive players and we’ve developed chemistry knowing where we’re on the ice,” said Horiachka, as Russell had a goal and an assist on the weekend. “Our power-play has really clicked this year and that has helped me boost some of my offensive totals.”
Horiachka has three goals and five assists on the man-advantage. Horiachka also mentioned they are able to do small things on the ice well such as break out plays and finding areas to capitalize on chances.
After his team beat Spokane 9-3, Kelowna Chiefs Head Coach Travers Rebman said “it was nice to see a bit of an offensive outburst.” They scored four goals in their previous three games, including two against the Revelstoke Grizzlies in two games.
“We still need to find consistency in generating offence while taking care of details defensively,” he said.
The Chiefs go on a three-game road trip to the Eddie Mountain division, where they will play Kimberley, Fernie and Creson.
“Hopefully we have some more confidence offensively after the last game and that gives us a little boost,” he said.
Rebman added that Parker McDonald has been trending in the right direction with his overall game.
“When he has his feet going he can be a difference maker,” he said. “It was nice to see Matt Keylor and Jake Kessler have those big games offensively and Luke Schraeder has added some composure and stability on the blue line playing with Zach Peitsch.”
After being asked to play a gritty role last season for the Summerland Steam, Keenan Conn is their captain, but he has also evolved as Head Coach Morten Kjolby uses the Beaumont, Alberta native on the power-play. He leads the Steam with 12 points in 12 games. He had nine points in 43 games last season.
“It’s obviously a big step from last year,” said Conn. “I think it’s been a growing process for sure. It’s been a big change and I’m learning how to score and make impact plays while still keeping the gritty aspect.”
Conn used the summer to work on his skating and hands and it’s resulted in him being quicker and using his hands effectively in tight situations.
With six points in 11 games, Colton Fleming leads the North Okanagan Knights’ blueline in points. The Salmon Arm native feels good about his play, which is a simple game getting pucks out. In getting time on the power-play, Fleming has contributed to special teams with a goal and four assists.
“I learned a lot from my teammates last season,” he said. “It’s been really good to show that I can help out in the offensive sense and not just be a stay-at-home-defenceman.”
Fleming has also sacrificed his body blocking shots and making sure to play a strong defensive game. Yet, he’s building confidence with the puck when he gets it.
Captain Levi Brewer had a three-point performance for the Osoyoos Coyotes in their 6-4 win over the 100 Mile House Wranglers. He now has nine assists in 10 games and his production has impressed Head Coach Ken Law.
“Yeah, that’s kind of out of the norm for him,” said Law of Brewer, who had 13 points in 44 games last season. “He’s usually just a steady Eddie on the back end. He has turned up his game a bit and getting more involved in the offence.”
Brewer leads by example and works hard each time he’s on the ice. The Coyotes rely on him to play more than 20 minutes a game.
“He’s a work horse,” said Law. ”He never slows down. He’s been a bright spot for sure. He’s not overly big (5-6, 160 pounds) and he’s chiseled. You knock him down and he comes right back up and in the play.”
Doug Birks Division
Daniel Kroon is half way to matching the 20 points he produced last season as a rookie for the Sicamous Eagles. Kroon said his play is getting better with each game and the team is playing well, which helps. Kroon is fifth on the Eagles with 10 points in 12 games.
“My linemates are getting me the puck and I’m scoring, which is always nice,” said Kroon, who has seven goals on the season. “I thought I was getting into my zone last year in the playoffs and just continue it into this season and it’s been a good start so far.”
He recorded his first KIJHL hat-trick on Oct. 6 against Chase and said that felt great.
“I’m feeling a lot more confident this year as last year was about finding my way. This year I’m feeling like I can really go for it,” he said. “I try to be as offensive as I can, while still focusing on the defensive zone first. I’m trying to be more offensive and shoot more pucks.”
The Kamloops Storm have won seven of their last 10 games and were led by Ryan Larsen, selected as the Top Forward with two goals and six points in four games. Evan Clark had five points in four games and leads the team with 15 points in 11 games.
Clark liked how he performed over the weekend and felt his line played solid defensively.
“That led to the offensive chances and fron there, we were able to capitalize on them,” he said. “I feel like I have been playing with more confidence. This season I have brought more offensively compared to the last couple seasons and I’m looking to keep that up.”
Six points in nine games has Jake Neufeld second on the Revelstoke Grizzlies in points. The Calgary native is happy with his play as he adapts to the quicker pace and physicality of the KIJHL. The former Calgary Northstar said the KIJHL is hard to play in and the transition has been hard, but he’s getting comfortable.
“That first Chase game (Sept. 29) when I got those two goals, I feel like I started to build my confidence,” he said. “Over the last few games, I kind of struggled to put the puck in the net. I finally got two back in Summerland. I just feel like my confidence is growing and I’m playing better and more confident with the puck.”
Neufeld is at his best when moving his feet, taking the body and getting pucks on net. He wants to have the puck and be in the offensive zone as much as possible.
With seven goals and 10 points in 11 games, Chase Heat defenceman Mikkel Hrechka is happy with his offensive performance.
“Definitely been putting some points up on the power play and getting some goals that way,” said Hrechka, who has five goals and two assists on the man-advantage..
He wants to continue contributing and doing what he can to help the Heat win a championship.
“I feel like as every day goes by, we catch a little more traction,” he said. “Every day we are coming together as a group, we are growing together. We are going through the growing pains right now.”
The Heat have lost three in a row and are 4-5-1 in their last 10.
Kelton Shinde is finding his game with the 100 Mile House Wranglers in his first KIJHL season after missing last season due to injury. Shinde, who played minor hockey with Ethan Davey, has only played at the Tier 3 level in Terrace and said the KIJHL has been a big step up.
“It’s been a bit of a slow start, but I’ve definitely been finding my way and picking it up a bit more,” said Shinde.
Shinde plays with speed and looks for teammates with a focus on making the right plays.
“I definitely know I’ve got another gear to pick it up,” he said.
In a previous KIJHL Notebook, Wranglers Head Coach Dale Hladun, credited Shinde for helping Davey with his increased offensive production. The two were teammates in Terrace minor hockey.
“Now that they are playing together again, they are just starting to find what they had together in minor hockey,” said Hladun.