Braves forward Sam Johnston battles Nathan Chen-Mack of the Cougars. Johnston will play college hockey in Oklahoma next season.

Braves forward Sam Johnston battles Nathan Chen-Mack of the Cougars. Johnston will play college hockey in Oklahoma next season.

Junior B skaters making noise

The list is getting longer for junior B hockey players graduating to the next level for the 2013-14 season.

The list is getting longer for junior B hockey players graduating to the next level for the 2013-14 season.

Shawn McBride of the Saanich Braves will suit up for the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League. And with junior A camps running summer long there will likely be more players from the Braves, Westshore Wolves, Victoria Cougars and Peninsula Panthers to make the jump before the September start to the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.

But the VIJHL has long been a feeder league for the BCHL. What’s new is the consistent number of VIJHL grads, particularly from Greater Victoria, who are moving on from the league to college.

Leading the way is Braves captain Ty Jones, MVP of the VIJHL in 2011-12. The Spectrum Community school grad has finally settled on a school and will play for the University of Oklahoma Sooners in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

Jones spearheaded the Braves best season in the modern junior B era as the team finished second in 2012-13 with 30 wins and made it to the VIJHL semifinals against the eventual Cyclone Taylor Cup finalist Cougars.

The Sooners play in Div. 1 of the ACHA, an alternative organization to the NCAA, albeit a tier below, and has has grown leaps and bounds in terms of it’s on ice product and status, said Braves coach Brad Cook.

“We have five guys moving on to college which is pretty exciting, not just for the players and the team but for our league. It’s a huge step in the right direction for us.”

Braves committed to play in the ACHA next year are defenceman Chad Roorda to the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos, and forwards Justin Polischuk and Sam Johnston to the Adrian College Bulldogs in Michigan, a team which ranked No. 1 in the ACHA last year.

More Braves are expected to sign including Garrett Kemmler, the top defenceman of the year, and forwards Josh Gray and Josh McGladery.

Perhaps the most coveted VIJHL player, Brody Coulter, opted not to explore his Southern and Canadian college options and will play for the UVic Vikes of the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League. Coulter previously turned down junior A invites to stay at home in Victoria and lead his Cougars while playing as a call-up with the Grizzlies.

The captain of reigning back-to-back VIJHL champion Cougars is also the league’s reigning MVP and owner of the modern scoring record with 118 points in 2012-13.

“Brody is hard working and possesses a strong desire to improve. I know he will do well at the collegiate level,” Cougars coach Mark Van Helvoirt said in the team’s press release.

However, the Cougars assistant captain, Sam Rice, will join Roorda at the University of Central Oklahoma.

“It has been the best four years of my life (with the Cougars) and I am sad that it is over,” said Rice.

“But it has helped me achieve my goal of getting an education through hockey.”

“Sam was a great Cougar, one of the best to ever wear the jersey. It has been an honour to be his coach and to watch him grow into the leader and the player he is today,” Van Helvoirt said.

The Cougars are also expecting to announce additional player advancements this summer, Van Helvoirt said.

The Cougars will return several core pieces of the 2013 championship and will likely recruit a few more to challenge for a third-straight VIJHL title.

As for the Braves, the team is looking at a rebuild without its core of scorers, top defencemen and goalie Tanner McGaw.

Not lost on coach Cook is the fact two ex-Braves played significant roles in the NHL this year, including the playoffs. Defenceman Matt Irwin of Brentwood Bay played his rookie year with the San Jose Sharks while Adam Cracknell was back with the St. Louis Blues full time after only two games in 2011-12.

Another Braves grad, Wade Murphy, was drafted to the Nashville Predators, 185th overall last week. So was Nolan De Jong of the Victoria Grizzlies, 197th overall to the Minnesota Wild.

Murphy and De Jong are the first Spectrum Community school hockey academy grads to be drafed by NHL teams.

As a reference, Cracknell was drafted 279th overall by the Calgary Flames in 2004.




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