Putting together a roster in junior hockey can be tricky, especially when your team is at the bottom of the ladder.
Junior B hockey clubs must often wait to know which of their stars will return until those players are released by B.C. Hockey League Jr. A teams, which are in a similar situation waiting for Major Junior teams in the Western Hockey League to make their final cuts.
For head coaches like Brian Passmore of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s Westshore Wolves, the early days of the season can be stressful.
“It’s actually a bit more crazy this year, because we started a week earlier and the BCHL (is starting) a week later,” he said of the league schedules, which affect the roster deadlines.
Nonetheless, Passmore and company are off to the best start in the history of the young franchise. After last night’s 6-2 win over the Peninsula Panthers the Wolves sat at 5-1 atop the league’s South division.
“We’ve been able to get a lot of returning guys back and have been gelling pretty quickly,” the coach said.
“We’ve done some things well, like our pursuit of the puck, we’ve been on it quickly. We have an offensive team with a number of guys who have played together for a while.”
Homegrown players have figured greatly in the Wolves success so far, Passmore said, with 15 or so Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association grads in the lineup.
And while veterans Kyle Richter (team-leading six goals and eight assists), Brett Lervold (4-8-12), Kayle Ramsay (2-5-7) and Corey Peterson (2-5-7) are leading the attack most nights, the large number of newcomers to the team have fit in nicely, he said.
“The rookies have come in and provided us with (a solid effort). The guys we’ve brought in are really responsible players and they’ve blended well with the veterans.”
Backstopping the team are a pair of rookies, Chris Smith, 18, and Riley Welyk, 17. They’ve shared the duties so far and Passmore pointed out the team really doesn’t have a number 1 goaltender at this point.
“Coming into the season we didn’t have much time to figure that out, so right now it’s week to week,” he said.
The two youngsters have given the team a chance to win every game, Passmore said. That includes last Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Oceanside Generals, when Welyk stopped 28 of 32 shots. After giving up a fourth goal 5:37 into the third period, he settled down and saw his teammates rally for a pair of goals and nearly force overtime.
While the Wolves are among the top-scoring teams in the league, they’re also one of the most penalized, a sign they’re not going to shy away from the rough stuff. While Passmore said more work needs to be done on the penalty kill and power play units, he has a good idea of the tone he wants set by his team.
“We play a hard game and we’re skating well as a group. We want to be known as a tough team to play every night.”
The Wolves play their home games on Wednesday nights in the comfortable confines of The Q Centre in Colwood. They take on Kerry Park in Mill Bay on Friday night (Sept. 20) then have a chance to get back at Oceanside, hosting the Generals on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.