Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
July 6, 2013, Saanich, BC (ISN) – After a successful 2012-2013 season that saw the Saanich Braves finish as one of the top two teams in the VIJHL, as well as graduate a number of players on to the next levels of Junior or College hockey, the Saanich Junior B hockey club has begun its quest for new talent and is holding their 2013 Prospects Camp this weekend at Pearkes Arena in Saanich.
For Saanich Braves Head Coach Brad Cook, success is not always measured in the win column, but instead, especially for a development league like the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, in how many players the team can move on to the next level of hockey, namely Junior A or higher, or college opportunities in Canada or the U.S.
Saanich Minor Hockey product Jakob Tinaburri carries the puck out of his zone during action against Team Black on Saturday morning (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
In an opening statement to players on Friday evening, Cook noted, “While winning championships is nice and what both players and coaches compete for, I’d rather coach ten years in this league and not win any, but if I had moved 5 or 6 players per year on to the next level, I would be satisfied with that kind of program success.”
Team Red goaltender Justin Samra gets ready to face a breakaway shot from Team Gray’s Liam Craig (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Using that benchmark, Cook, now heading into the third year of his recent tenure behind the bench with the Braves, is well on his way to meeting that standard. At least five of his players from last season (with possibly more to come) have committed to play at the Junior A level, or at U.S. colleges this fall.
Saanich Midget AA player Conner Allan would score a pair of penalty shot goals in his game against Team Gray on Saturday afternoon (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Leading the charge is 2012-2013 Captain and Braves leading scorer Ty Jones, who is headed to the University of Oklahoma. Gritty forwards Sam Johnston and Justin Polischuck are off to Michigan where they will both be joining the ranks of the Adrian College Bulldogs in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). Rear guard Chad Roorda is also joining an ACHA school as he is headed to play at Central Oklahoma University and Saanich Minor Hockey product Shawn McBride has signed to play at the Junior A level with the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL.
Team White defenceman Garrett Stankoven, who spent last season with the Major Midget South Island Royals, carries the puck out of his end against Team Black on Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The success of moving players up a level is a bit of a double-edged sword for teams in the VIJHL, as it means there are gaps to fill each season, but it is what teams strive for.
“That’s what we want to do,” said Cook. “When you have that success of moving guys on to the next level, I mean ultimately that’s what we are here for. We are a stepping stone and a development league through and through and that’s what I try and live by. I will never hold a kid back, I want kids to be gone.”
Team Black’s Evan Badry avoids pressure as he moves the puck up the boards on Saturday morning (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“It also allows us at a camp like this to take more players and give new guys an opportunity,” added Cook. “I wish we could take more than two 16-year old players on our roster this year. It does make it difficult to fill those holes, but on the flip side there are opportunities for someone else.”
Saanich Midget AA player Scott Henderson played a few games up with the Junior Braves last season and is looking to build on that success this year (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Speaking of those “someone else’s” there are four teams worth of skaters and goalies looking to impress Cook and the rest of the Brave’s coaching staff at the Prospect Camp this weekend.
On Friday, all four teams were put through practice sessions and on Saturday morning, they all played their first games. While the play was pretty much expected for a spring/summer camp where many players may not be familiar with each other, Cook noted that there were some positives.
“The first games are always a bit of a feeling out process, but I did like the compete level,” said Cook. “I also liked the youth, in that there were some talented 15 and 16 year old players out there pushing the older kids. I think now that the nerves are out of the way, the games this evening will be better and the games on Sunday will be the best of the bunch.”
Three of those 15-year old players (born in 1998) included a number of Island based players recently selected in the 2013 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft. They are Duncan’s Josh Anderson (taken 3rd overall by Prince George), Victoria’s Brendan De Jong (7th round by Portland) and Victoria’s Ryan Warren (9th round by Everett). “I am thrilled that 3 of the 5 Island players taken in the WHL draft wanted to come to our camp,” said Cook. “That is rewarding for the Braves program, but also speaks of the caliber of player that the VIJHL is starting to attract.”
Juan de Fuca Midget AAA defenceman Connor Birmingham hopes to have a shot at cracking the Junior Braves line-up as a 16-year old (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
While Cook would not commit to mentioning any one player or players that were jumping out so far, he did allude to the fact that there are certain kids on his radar that he hopes will stand out from the crowd.
“As a coach, you have a group of kids that you have mentally recruited and think can be your guys. So now it’s time for those guys to separate themselves from the pack, and step up and show myself and the other coaches what they can do.”
Victoria Racquet Club product Dale McCabe navigates through traffic during a game against Team Red on Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“Sometimes kids get a bit of a swagger thinking that they are already a top guy but they probably don’t realize that they looked below average on the ice,” added Cook. “I want those guys to be self-aware and step up their game and separate themselves from the rest, as they should.”
The players will have that opportunity throughout the rest of the camp which continues with games Saturday afternoon at 4:30 pm and in the evening at 6:00 pm.
On Sunday, the final two games go at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. All games are at Pearkes Arena in Saanich.
Speedy forward Jack Rachwalski, who played last season for the Major Midget South Island Royals, would score a goal in his game against Team Gray on Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Following the games, all players will be interviewed by the coaches and a number will hope to be invited back to main camp in August where they will continue on with their quest to join the club for the 2013-2014 season.