Bayne Ryshak is liking this year’s version of the Flames as much as any he has coached.
The Ridge Meadows Flames are back in action on Friday night at Cam Neely Arena, as the puck drops on a new season of junior B hockey.
“We’ve got quite a few guys back,” said head coach Ryshak. “We have a good core of guys we believe in, and we’ve insulated them with a lot of good young players.”
The Flames don’t just have a lot of returnees, they have quality offensive players coming back to Maple Ridge.
Leading scorer Tetsuya Prior is back, after the former Delta Ice Hawk joined the Flames and put up a career-best 23 goals and 63 points in 41 games last year. That was good for sixth in league scoring.
Ryshak said Prior has the potential to lead the league.
“His challenge is to take another step forward this year.”
Eric Bourhill only played in 30 games last year, but scored 22 goals and 44 points. Both Prior and Bourhill are 20-year-olds.
Local boy Nicholas Amsler is 18, and in his first season had eight goals and 39 points in 35 games. The former Ridge Meadows Rustler went on to the Yale Hockey Academy and has played 11 games in the BCHL over the past two seasons with the Coquitlam Express.
Another local who can build on a solid rookie season is Ryan Denney, who had five goals and 28 points in 32 games last year. Also a former Rustler, he went on to the Burnaby Winter Club, the BC Major Midget League, and got into four BCHL games with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Two other key returnees up front are Jayden Genberg, who has has had 64 points in two seasons, and big Jarod McKay. He jumped from 11 points as a rookie to 33 points last year in his second season.
Ryshak said he will have three good offensive lines with the new key players, and the coaching staff can play whoever is going good.
“The top six is not set. There’s going to be a lot of guys challenging for jobs.”
On defence, Emmett Garrett is back for another year. He had three goals and 16 points in 35 games with his hometown team. He is another former Rustler who went on to the Yale Hockey Academy and BCMML.
Ethan Kitsch, 17, had 10 points in 35 games, and the Maple Ridge player can play on the wing or on the blueline.
Nick Marsh came to the Falmes after three seasons and 92 games with Delta, and Ryshak is expecting big things from him.
“He should be one of the better defencemen in the league.”
Ryshak said GM Derek Bedard has signed several young rookies who can skate and play reliable defence, including Matthew Tyszka of Langley, who has impressed so far.
The Flames took a pre-season road trip to 100 Mile House for a two-game set against the Wranglers of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
Rookie goaltender Elliott Marshall was outstanding in both games, playing half of a 2-1 win on Saturday, and the entire 4-1 win on Sunday.
The Wranglers will host the 2020 Cyclone Taylor Cup in April.
“That’s the goal – to get back to 100 Mile again,” said Ryshak. “It was a good team-bonding trip for the boys.”
Marshall’s performance earned the 18-year-old Surrey native the first start of the season on Friday.
The Flames have also signed 17-year-old goaltender Brian Dale of Mission.
Now in his fourth full season as head coach, Ryshak has a team that is comparable to the best the Flames have put on the ice in his time.
“If we can challenge this group, and stay healthy, they should have a pretty high ceiling. We want to be able to hold them to that.”
As is typical this time of year, there are more high-end prospects in Junior A camps who could still be cut and come back to Junior B.
“There are some other lines in the water, but we’re pretty excited about what we’ve got,” said Ryshak.
The Flames are coming off a solid season, where they went 20-20-1-3.
Their opponent in the first game will be the Langley Trappers, who finished second in the Harold Brittain Conference last season.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Planet Ice.