The Ridge Meadows Flames are hoping for a return trip to the junior B Pacific International Junior Hockey League playoffs as they prepare for the 2011/12 season.
This year’s edition of the Flames will feature many new, younger faces, as many of the pieces to last year’s team have aged out or moved on from the PIJHL.
But with youth comes energy, and head coach Tavis Eaton expects a far more fleet-footed squad to take the ice this season.
“We’re faster, and when you look at the best teams in the league … that’s how they play,” he said.
The Flames played their first exhibition games last weekend, dropping a pair to the Grandview Steelers.
The Flames fell 4-3 at home to the Steelers on Friday night before travelling to the Burnaby Winter Club Sunday, when they lost 4-1.
The Flames play their first regular season game Sept. 23 at home at Planet Ice in Maple Ridge, also against the Grandview Steelers. The team’s home games will be played every Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Captaining the team this year is 20-year-old Shane Harle, who has been with the team since his rookie season at 16.
“He’s the longest serving member of the team and there’s a lot of respect for him in the dressing room,” said Eaton. “He never complains, he always works hard … and he’s pretty excited to be captain.”
The status of last year’s leading scorer, Danny Brandys, is still up in the air as he is currently away working in Alberta.
“He would be a big piece of the puzzle if we could get him back,” said Eaton.
Matt Bevilacqua, Reece Rivard, and Joey Weilmeier will all return to the Flames blue line, while Dean Gilmour, Alex Smith, Paul Piluso, Adam Bartsch, and Lucas Douglas return as forwards.
Tyler Klassen will also return for his final campaign in the PIJHL as the Flames’ starting goalie, while sharing time between the pipes with Jordan Eggert.
Among the new faces the Flames have signed are a host of young defenceman, including Brad Wardner, Deven Banns, Terence Trusdale, and Alex Antle.
At forward, newcomers include Matt Bissett and Trevor Sutton, both formerly of the major midget Vancouver North East Chiefs, as well as Cody Holleran, who played the past four seasons with the Pitt Meadows Marauders football team. Also joining the team will be Peyton Lupul, Kyle Jangula, Adam Callegari, Kenny Prato, and Trevor Harris.
“I expect big things from all of them,” Eaton said. “They all have the potential to do big things, it’s a matter of hard work.
“There’s a lot of talent on this team.”
While last season the Flames looked to the Ridge Meadows midget A1 Rustlers for many of their rookie signing, this year’s team features a more geographically diverse group.
“Spence Levens has done a great job with the midget A1 team,” said Eaton. “And if the talent is there, I’ll take it. But if not, you have to look elsewhere.”
Eaton is hoping this season’s young group will look to the team’s past for inspiration.
Players like Brandon Yip, Kellan Tochkin, and Brad Hunt all got their start with the Ridge Meadows Flames, and quickly ascended the hockey development ladder.
Just last year, former Flames goalie Eric Williams successfully transitioned to the WHL, playing 40 games with the Prince Albert Raiders before being traded to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the off-season.
“There’s opportunities here, for sure,” Eaton said.
New for 2011/12
There a number of changes to the PIJHL this season, the most obvious being the Wolf Pack’s departure from Squamish after just two seasons. The team will now be known as the North Van Wolf Pack, and play out of the Harry Jerome Rec Centre.
As for rule changes, the PIJHL will be adopting a new overtime format, doing away with the five-round shoot-out.
Should a game remained tied after 60 minutes of regulation play, the game will move to four-on-four hockey for a five-minute sudden death overtime period, similar to the NHL. However, should the game remained tied after the first overtime, a second five-minute overtime period will be played, three-on-three.
“It’s a good move,” said Flames coach Tavis Eaton. “It’s exciting. I think it will be good for the fans.”