As early September rains soothe parched Vancouver Island forests, its easy forget about the smoky skies, British Columbia forest fires, and the people who fought them.
What do the record making British Columbia fires have to do with the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League? Well, they essentially helped Buccaneers Head Coach and General Manager Curt Toneff solidify which player he was going to bestow the Team Captaincy upon.
The Buccaneers had graduated seven 20-year-olds, one of which being former Buccs Captain Coleman Doney. Coach Toneff says he knew after having discussions with the veteran players that would return this season which players would be wearing letters on their jerseys, just not necessarily which letters.
Newly appointed Captain, #27 Billy Walters, missed the first two weeks of training camp while fighting fires within the Province. Toneff paints a picture of respect and admiration for the fourth year junior amongst his teammates. Walters travelled through the night after fighting fires to make the recent fitness testing, on four hours of sleep, and “owned it”. “He’s a guy that wants to wear that ‘C’ on his chest. He wants to lead by example; he’s a role model.” Defenceman Dylan Hartl and winger Trey Watson were announced as Alternate Captains, with one more ‘A’ possibly “Up for grabs”.
The Buccaneers enter the season looking to create a new identity, having lost prolific scorers Mathieu Jallabert (SFU) and Jaden Schubert (ERC Germany 3) and Booker Chacalias (Victoria Cougars). After a 3-0 preseason, the Buccaneers made it seven straight home openers with a win, beating the defending VIJHL Champion Campbell River Storm 3-1.
There are a handful of Rookies in the lineup, several of which should be making headlines throughout the season. Goaltender Austin Dendl and forward Joshua Zary (BCMML North Island Silvertips) made an immediate impact, Zary scoring less than five minutes into his Junior hockey debut, and Dendl posting a .955 save percentage, earning first star honors. Riley Gannon’s speed sealed the affair, assisting on Billy Walters’ empty net goal late in the third period. Dawson Wolff, Trey Boylan and Brendan Rogers also looked good in their debuts. Evan Pattison will lessen the pain of the graduation of offensive defenceman Clayton Peace (Cowichan Valley Capitals, BCHL). Calgary forward products Tyson McLean and Tyler Nypower have a nice blend of speed and grit, the latter developing chemistry on a line with Zary.
While it’s still early goings, the Nanaimo Buccaneers look ready to flourish under second year Head Coach Curt Toneff. His Assistant Coaches, Christian Brandt and Nolan Richardson, have a wealth of experience, and understand what these young players are experiencing. Junior hockey is a big jump from Major Midget, but this years’ bumper crop have more than amply restocked the Buccaneers’ talent cupboards. New owner Clayton Robinson couldn’t have chosen a better year to get involved; the Buccaneers could challenge for the North Division pole position in the VIJHL. The wildfires in British Columbia quelled, the Buccaneers look to heat things up on the ice during the 2018/19 campaign.