The Ridge Meadows Flames lost their leading scorer, as winger Marco Ballarin moves up another rung on the ladder of competitive hockey.
But they have also gained a big power forward, local boy Michael Bell, who has stepped into the outgoing Ballarin’s spot on the top line.
Ballarin has 33 points, including 16 goals, in 23 games in the Pacific International Junior Hockey League. That caught the eye of the Junior A Prince George Spruce Kings, who called up the 18-year-old just hours before their roster cutdown deadline.
“It’s a great move for him, and we’re very happy for him,” said GM/coach Jamie Fiset, who praised Ballarin’s hard work, determination and leadership this season.
He came to the Flames as a 16-year-old in the 2010-2011 campaign, and still has two more seasons of eligibility in the B.C. Hockey League after the present campaign. He immediately started proving to the Spruce Kings that they made a savvy acquisition, by tallying a goal and two assists in his first two games.
“He hasn’t missed a beat,” noted Fiset. “Marco’s got loads of potential.”
Ballarin goes to a good club, as the Spruce Kings are in the hunt for first place in the Mainland Division.
It is a positive for the Flames to be seen as a stepping stone, and a place where young hockey prospects can develop.
“It makes recruiting a whole lot easier when families know you’re sending kids on,” said Fiset.
At the same time, Ballarin’s departure was “a gigantic loss to our team.”
Stepping into the big hole left by Ballarin is six-foot-three, 220-pound Michael Bell. A Maple Ridge player who has been with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, who was acquired for future considerations.
Bell has 13 goals and 28 points in 25 games for the Fruitvale team.
“He’s a big, intimidating body out there, but also a very smart hockey player,” said Fiset. “When he wants the puck, he’s gonna get it.”
“We’ve been looking for a player like Michael Bell for a while.”
Fiset plugged him into Ballarin’s spot, on a line with Dale Howell and Boston Colley, and they produced a game-winning goal on Saturday.
The Flames had a two-win weekend. Saturday beat the North Delta Devils 2-1, after outshooting them 43-25.
Goaltenders were the Stars of the game, as Tyler Read was first star and North Delta’s Nicholas Tenciansky second.
Read lost his shutout bid with just seven seconds left. A Flames forward blocked a shot, but it deflected right back to a Devils’ player, he threw it into heavy traffic in front of Read, and it somehow pinballed into the net.
Third star went to Nicholas Maydaniuk of Ridge, who scored the game’s first goal, and Bell got the game-winner in the third period.
The Flames also beat Port Moody 5-0 on Friday night, and goaltender Kurt Klimek got the shutout and the game’s first star.
Andrew Castagna had a goal and two assists, Jordan Gracie had a goal and an assist and goals also scored by Travis Oddy, Trevor Sutton and Jake Holland.
The Flames’ climb to respectability, which features a four-game unbeaten streak, gives them a record of 9-12-3-2 (W-L-OTL-T).
Teddy Bear Toss
This Friday night the Flames host the Grandview Steelers (12-10-2-2) at Planet Ice, 7:30 p.m., in a game that will feature the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss.
Fans are invited to bring a stuffed toy to the game and throw it onto the ice after the first Flames goal is scored.
The toys will be donated to a local children’s charity.