VICTORIA COUGARS SEASON PREVIEW

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The Victoria Cougars don’t rebuild, they reload.

With only seven players from last year’s silver medalist team returning, Victoria will sport a new look when it opens its regular season at home against the Saanich Braves on September 8.

Game time at the Archie Browning Sports Centre, located at 1151 Esquimalt Road, is 7:00 p.m.

With all the successes the Cougars had last season, it comes as no surprise that VIJHL scoring leader Nathan Looysen and defenceman Nico Somerville were immediately gobbled up by the BCHL Victoria Grizzlies.

Defenceman Jesse Kestenbaum moved up to Junior A as well, signing with the Cumberland Grads of the Central Canada Hockey League.

Victoria also had five forwards and three defenceman playing out their junior eligibility last year leaving only goaltender Anthony Ciurro and forwards Kenny Britton, Liam Kinshella, Dom Kolbeins, Jordan Passmore, Akila Sato-Gaudreau, and James Scott on the active roster.

Up front, the Cougars needed to replace the 80 goals scored by Cody Hodges and Looysen.

With that being said, Victoria pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Nanaimo Buccaneers during the offseason – acquiring forwards Owen Dalman and Nick Gomerich as well as defencemen Jake Calverley and Mitch Popp.

A few weeks later, the Cougars landed forward Kyle Wade from the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.

Victoria then went out and signed defenceman Tyler Pang and corralled from the Peninsula Panthers forward Grayden Hohl.

With all their new players, the Cougars will be more balanced in terms of scoring than of previous years and should have three lines that can consistently produce offense.

Gomerich could turn out to be a steal after recording 13 goals and 24 assists in 42 games with Nanaimo last year.

Selected 118th overall by the Saskatoon Blades in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, Gomerich played for Saskatoon during the 2013-14 season before winding up in Power River to play for the BCHL Kings the following year.

Dalman, Hohl, and Wade all have point-a-game potential.  Guillaume Dionne (Vancouver, British Columbia) and Wyatt Elmer (Delta, British Columbia), who played one game as an affiliate for the Cougars last year, survived the cut.

For the very first time in team history, Victoria returns no one on defense.

Newcomers Calverley and Popp give the Cougars some much needed toughness.

In 165 games, Calverley amassed 634 penalty minutes in his four years with the Buccaneers.

“I am extremely excited to be joining such a great and prestigious team,” Calverley said.  “I cannot wait to go to battle with my new teammates and begin the quest to bring the Cyclone Taylor Cup back to Victoria.”

Meanwhile, Popp is a shutdown defender who will be counted on to neutralize the opponent’s top lines.

Pang spent last season with the South Island Royals of the BC Major Midget League where he amassed 22 points in 42 games.  Only 17-years-old, Pang has an extremely high ceiling.

Rounding out the Cougars defensive corp are Carl Ewert (Prince George, British Columbia), Mattson Haggard (Victoria, British Columbia), and Avery Hill (Saline, Michigan).

With Ciurro entrenched as the No. 1 goalie in Victoria, the question is who is going to be No. 2?

Ciurro returns after leading the VIJHL in both goals against average and save percentage the past two years.  The Peoria, Arizona native has fully recovered from a freak accident he sustained during warmup that sidelined him for the majority of the 2016 Cyclone Taylor Cup.

The backup job belongs to 17-year-old Chris Akerman who excelled during training camp and in preseason.  A native of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia and a product of the Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association, Akerman covers a lot of net with his six-foot-two frame.

Akerman has the mental makeup and the physical tools to succeed.

There will be a new look to the coaching staff.

Suneil Karod takes over as head coach after Mark Van Helvoirt stepped down on Wednesday.  Returning are associate coaches Thomas Kala and Jake Stolz as well as goaltending coach Bill Morrison.  Brody Coulter will not be returning for a third season.

Amidst all the changes, there is a lot to like here.

With a bunch of new players and personalities, success will be determined by how quickly the team gels together.

Karod is hoping to leave Creston, British Columbia, site of the 2017 Cyclone Taylor Cup, with a gold medal around his neck come April.

Time will tell.

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