Juan de Fuca Grizzlies Tier 1 midget AAA hockey coach Chris Kueber likes what he sees on and off the ice with his current lineup.
With a mix of mostly second-year midget players, with four third-year and three first-years on the roster, it’s giving his team a good balance of experience, youthful enthusiasm and drive.
With captain Evan Kniep, a third-year forward, and assistants Blake Dreyer (second-year defenceman) and Jarrod Rossander (third-year d-man) leading the way, Kueber said the group has come together quickly.
“We’re actually young on the blueline, but as far as leaders go, they are just awesome,” he said.
While midget hockey can tend to be a mixed bag in terms of wins and losses, even for talented teams like the Grizzlies, this year’s crop of players have an “even-keeled” attitude that Kueber believes will serve them well toward playoff time.
And with Kueber and his fellow coaches operating on a Fair Play system – they don’t shorten up the bench in certain situations – every player gets a chance to contribute at both ends of the rink.
“Our scoring is very spread out; we’re very team oriented,” he said. “Kids surprise you, (scoring) comes from everywhere when you play them fair and you see the kids have success. Confidence is such a big part of this game.”
Some of the newcomers are making an impact, too, like first-year defenceman Zack Whittaker and rookie forward Dayton Clarke, both of whom are showing maturity on and off the ice.
Overall, Kueber said, the team members “just finish every check and just work non-stop. They’re young and very energetic and our speed is pretty dominating from front to back.”
Last month at the Richmond Seafair tournament, an annual event many teams use to play some quality opposition and gauge where they’re headed for the season, the Grizzlies lost a semifinal shootout against a tough Langley team.
Afterward, the opposing coach told Kueber the Grizzlies were the toughest team they had played so far this season.
The Grizzlies, who beat Nanaimo 5-2 and tied Comox Valley 4-4 last weekend at home, will get another good test of their talents this weekend during the annual Jeff Batters Memorial Greater Victoria Midget Hockey Classic tournament. The event sees volunteers from the Juan de Fuca, Saanich and Peninsula associations combine their efforts to stage a top-calibre tournament, Kueber said.
Juan de Fuca was scheduled to host the Kelowna Rockets at home last night (Nov. 10) in their opener, then play Burnaby Winter Club today at 3:15 p.m. at Oak Bay.
After enjoying the tournament awards dinner and banquet Friday night, Saturday sees them take on the Vancouver Thunderbirds at 9 a.m. at the Wuertele Arena at Naden, then zip out to Panorama Recreation to play the Hollyburn Huskies at 4:40 p.m. The playoffs get underway Sunday and include a game at Westhills Arena in Langford.
Find more information about the Grizzlies at jdfminorhockey.com.