By Peter Kung 

Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Victoria Cougars begin their 15th season in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League this Saturday in Kerry Park and will be looking for a win to start the season and begin their journey to defend their 2011-2012 VIJHL title.

Game time at the Kerry Park Recreation Centre, located at 1035 Shawnigan Mill Bay Road, is 7:30 p.m.

Victoria will then return home the following day to face the expansion Westshore Wolves for a 3:30 p.m. game at the Archie Browning Sports Centre.

It has been a busy offseason for head coach Mark Van Helvorit and his coaching staff. After settling for second place at last year’s Cyclone Taylor Cup, the four-time VIJHL champion Cougars are reloaded and ready for battle.

And again, Victoria enters the season with high expectations.

“Coming into a new season, expectations are high from both the league’s perspective and from the coach’s standpoint,” Van Helvoirt said. “But at the end of the day, we just want to make sure our goal remains the same. That is to make sure over the course of the season; we are steadily improving and developing as individuals and as a team.”

In offseason moves, the Cougars shipped forward Kyle Richter to Westshore, dealt defenseman Ryan Parmar to the Abbotsford Pilots of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League, acquired forward Garrett Brandsma from the Comox Valley Glacier Kings, and most recently obtained the services of forward Dane Feeney from the Campbell River Storm.

“Garrett [Brandsma] brings grit and toughness to our lineup while Dane [Feeney] is a sparkplug who provides us with another offensive weapon,” Van Helvoirt said.

All four deals involved cash going the other way.

Up front, Victoria returns Brody Coulter, Nathan Chen-Mack, Wade Johnson, Ben Kinshella, Sam Rice, and Mark Walton.

Coulter, who took over as team captain last year and expected to wear the “C” on the front of his jersey again this season, leads by example. The 6’1, 175 lbs. forward led the Cougars with 27 goals last year and is expected to exceed that total by the time the season ends in five months.

Both Rice and Walton should see their point totals (54 and 39 respectively) rise from last season and if Chen-Mack can find a spot on the first or second line, the 18-year-old budding forward can finally get to unleash his unlimited potential.

In addition to Brandsma and Feeney, Victoria has added forwards Jo Davie, David Marshall, Jesse Nixon, and Daniel Orsborn to the mix.

Marshall, who played in the Northwest Junior Hockey League last season, paid instant dividends after scoring three goals against Westshore in a preseason game back on August 30.

“We brought David [Marshall] in from the Fort St. John Huskies. He has been a good player for us through camp and we expect that he will have an impact on this team,” Van Helvoirt said.

On defense, Graham Zagrodney, Jake Stolz, and Rhys Williams return for another season.

Zagrodney, who posted seven points in only nine regular season games after arriving to Victoria late last year, has all the tools to quarterback the power play.

Stolz and Williams, both stay-at-home defensemen, are two of several reasons why the Cougars led the VIJHL in goals against last year.

Newcomers to the blue line include Matt Ho and Brandon Workun, who last season attended Edge School in Alberta. Matthew Dumba, former Red Deer Rebels standout and first round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2012 National Hockey League Entry Draft, attended Edge School in 2009-10.

Victoria is still waiting to hear back from Dysin Mayo who is in Edmonton attending the Oil Kings training camp and Robert Zadra who is in Powell River trying to secure a spot on the Kings roster.

In net, the Cougars are hopeful that Evan Roch can have a repeat performance. Roch, who last season was named VIJHL Goaltender of the Year, posted a combined regular season/playoff 18 wins, a 2.13 goals against average, and a .916 save percentage.

The second goalie spot is still yet to be determined.

Despite losing co-scoring champion Steven Axford and four other prolific scorers to graduation, Victoria still has loads of offense and more than enough talent from the back end to have another solid season.

“We feel that we have put together a strong team of guys who will work hard,” Van Helvoirt said. “The important pieces are in place. Now we just want to make sure that we are getting better and improving every day so come April we can make some waves.”

Heading into the final few days before the start of the regular season, Van Helvoirt noted that he and his assistant’s Suneil Karod and Thomas Kala still have some difficult decisions to make.

“It has been a good camp. The kids who have come in have done an excellent job and everyone has worked hard. They are making our decisions difficult, which is all you can ask for,” Van Helvoirt said.

And according to Van Helvoirt, he expects the 2012-13 edition of the Cougars to be well-balanced, fun to watch, and a hard team to play against.