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Know your enemy: A preview of the Royals' B.C. Division foes

A WHL preview of Royals, Giants, Cougars, Rockets and Blazers
Royals Airplane Logo 3
Big enough for Marty the Marmot but not big enough for the whole team

Black Press reporters preview the B.C. division for 2011-12

Kamloops Blazers

Last season: 29-37-3-3, ninth in Western Conference, fifth in B.C. Division — missed playoffs for second time in franchise history.

Coaching staff: Head coach, Guy Charron (second full season); associate coach, Dave Hunchak (first season); assistant coach, Ed Patterson (first season); skills coach, Mike Needham (first season); goaltenders’ coach, Dan De Palma (third season).

Key losses: D Corey Fienhage and G Jeff Bosch, both of whom played out their eligibility.

The 20-year-olds: D Bronson Maschmeyer, D Josh Caron and F Chase Schaber.

The imports: D Marek Hrbas and F Tim Bozon.

Key Returnees: D Maschmeyer, D Caron, F Schaber, F Brendan Ranford, F J.T. Barnett, F Dylan Willick, F Colin Smith, F Jordan DePape and D Austin Madaisky.

New faces: Hrbas, Bozon, G Taran Kozun, G Cole Cheveldave, G Cam Lanigan, D Tyler Bell.

Blazer bits: Kamloops sent eight players — forwards Schaber, Ranford, Willick, DePape, Barnett, Colin Smith and defencemen Madaisky and Caron — to NHL training camps.

The prognosis: The rebuilding days are over and it’s time for Kamloops to compete for a B.C. Division title. This is the fourth year of Blazers’ GM Craig Bonner’s five-year plan and Kamloops’ roster consists largely of experienced 18- and 19-year old players. If the Blazers stay healthy and maintain discipline a division title isn’t of the question.

Kelowna Rockets

Last season: 43-28-0-1, fourth in Western Conference, first in B.C. division. Swept Prince George in first round of playoffs, lost to Portland in second.

Head coach: Ryan Huska (fifth season, ninth on staff).

Assistants: Ryan Cuthbert (sixth season), Dan Lambert (third season), and Kim Dillabaugh (ninth season).

Key losses: D Tyson Barrie (turning pro), F Geordie Wudrick and F Evan Bloodoff. F Mitchell Callahan could be back as a 20-year-old but is expected to begin his pro career with the Red Wings’ organization.

The 20-year-olds: G Adam Brown, F Cody Chikie, and D Kevin Smith.

The imports: F Filip Vasko, 17 (Slovakia).

Key returnees: F Shane McColgan, F Colton Sissons, F Brett Bulmer, F Zach Franko, D Colton Jobke and G Adam Brown.

New faces: Four 16-year-old rookies on the roster— defencemen Jesse Lees and Madison Bowey, and forwards Tyson Baillie and Austin Ferguson. The Rockets are a young, skilled group with 10 players on the roster 17-years old or younger.

Prince George Cougars

Last season: 33-35-2-2, seventh in Western Conference, fourth in B.C. division: Swept by Kelowna Rockets in first round of the playoffs

Head coach: Dean Clark (third season, 15th overall)

Assistants: Jason Becker (third season), Brent Arsenault (seventh season) and goaltending coach Phil Guenter (first season)

Key losses: F Taylor Stefishen, F James Dobrowolski and D Sena Acolatse. Acolatse signed an entry-level contract with the San Jose Sharks while Stefishen got recruited by the University of Calgary Dinos.

The 20-year-olds: G Drew Owsley, F Spencer Asuchak, D Cody Carlson.

Import: D Martin Marincin (Slovakia).

Key returnees: If they return from pro camps, 1992-born skaters Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Martin Marincin (Edmonton Oilers) will play significant roles on this team. Connolly led the team in 2010-11 with 46 goals in 59 games. Marincin was eighth in scoring among defenceman, with 56 points in 67 games.

Charles Inglis, who attended camp with the San Jose Sharks, and Nick Buonassisi are other members of a 1992-born forward group that has potential to collect a lot of points this season. Although small in stature, sophomore forward Troy Bourke will be looking to build off impressive rookie numbers (19 G and 23 A). Having made Central Scouting Services' final NHL draft list only to not get selected in June, third-year blue liner Jesse Forsberg will be motivated and is expected to take on more minutes in his third WHL season.

New faces: G Drew Owsley, G Devon Fordyce and F Alex Forsberg will start their first full seasons with the Cougars. If Owsley plays as well as his statistics with Tri-City suggest he can, Fordyce will only have to play a limited role. Even if Connolly and Marincin return, at this point it appears as though Owsley's performance will be the biggest factor in determining how the Cougars fare on the ice. Too often last season the Cougars were caught sleeping in their own zone and with a relatively young back end, there's nothing suggesting their defence will improve much.

Watch for: Alex Forsberg to put up respectable rookie numbers. The Cougars selected Alex, Jesse's younger brother, with the first overall selection in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft. Although a little shy with the puck as he's adjusting to the WHL game, he showed potential he can turn into an junior star during call-up duty with the Cougars. He scored his first

The prognosis: Just having a lot of WHL games under their belt doesn't translate into success. As already pointed out, if Connolly and Marincin don't return, noticeable holes will be left behind. Owsley will need to steal some games for this team to improve on its 2010-11 mark. If the two offensive kingpins don't return and Owsley has an off year, they could be clawing just to make the playoffs.

Vancouver Giants

Last season: 35-32-1-4, fifth in Western Conference, second in B.C. division. Lost to the Tri City Americans in four games in the first round of the playoffs.

Head coach: Don Hay (seventh season, 13th in WHL).

Assistants: Glen Hanlon (first season), Yogi Svejkovsky (sixth season). Goaltending coach: Paul Frickr (first season).

Key losses: F Spencer Bennett, G Mark Segal, F Andrej Stastny.

The 20-year-olds: F James Henry, D Neil Manning, F Michael Burns.

Key returnees: Besides the 20-year-olds, F Brendan Gallagher, D David Musil, F Marek Tvrdon, F Dalton Sward.

New faces: F Anthony Ast. Watch for: A big return from little Brendan Gallagher. Gallagher is a leading candidate to make Team Canada for the 2012 World Junior hockey championship, Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton.

Centering game: Slovakian import Marek Tvrdon missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. Regardless, his six goals and five assists in the dozen games he played got him drafted to the Detroit Red Wings. The question is, who will centre Gallagher (97 points) and Tvrdon on the first line? Leading candidates are Jordan Martinook, Teal Burns and James Henry.

Prediction: Don Hay’s gang should pull in another 40-win season.

Victoria Royals

Last season (as the Chilliwack Bruins): 33-31-4-4, sixth in Western Conference, third in B.C. division. Lost to the Spokane Chiefs in five games in the first round of the playoffs.

Head coach: Marc Habscheid (third season, 10th in WHL).

Assistants: Enio Sacilotto (second season), Ben Cooper, (first season), Craig Didmon (first season).

Key losses: F Ryan Howse, D Brandon Manning, F Roman Horak, F Dylen McKinlay and G Lucas Gore have all graduated. D Mitch Topping was traded.

The 20-year-olds: D Hayden Rintoul, D Curt Gogol, F Robin Soudek, G Braden Gamble.

The imports: Robin Soudek and Lucas Kralik (both Czech Republic).

Key returnees: F Kevin Sundher, F Robin Soudek, D Tyler Stahl, F Curt Gogol, F Steven Hodges, F Brandon Magee. Gone are the top two scorers from last year, Howse and Horak, as well as the captain and top-scoring defenceman Manning. Between Hodges, Magee and a few others, 100 goals needs to be replaced.

New faces: Hayden Rintoul joined the Royals in June in a trade from the WHL champion Kootenay Ice. Rintoul played 19 playoff games last year. Island-raised Kade Pilton, still just 16 and already 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, has shown strong offensive instincts from the blue line during the preseason. Lucas Kralik comes from the Czech Republic, the Royals top pick in the 2011 CHL Import draft (36th overall).

Watch for: Kevin Sundher’s growth as an intelligent player to infect the team. Sundher, a Buffalo Sabres prospect, isn’t the biggest player but is as fast as anyone in the league and knows his team needs to be a nuisance to play against for them to be successful.

Just notes: Feisty forward Curt Gogol attended the San Jose Sharks rookie camp as a free agent signing while Sundher experienced his second rookie camp with the Sabres having made it to main camp in 2010. An injury hampered Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect Tyler Stahl’s NHL training camp.

Prediction: With unanswered questions about the Royals’ offence, the 2011-12 season could be the franchise’s worst (not that fans from Chilliwack will care). Then again, in five years the club has managed four playoff appearances and has a bevy of young defencemen ready to step up. If they get the necessary goaltending, a defensive-minded Royals’ team could exceed the 30-win plateau.

Crowd control: Mad Mondays will see a limited amount of $5 tix released for the next home game.

The Royals drew 5,036 for their only preseason home game versus the Kelowna Rockets. Game one against the Vancouver Giants for Sept. 24 is sold out.