The Ridge Meadows Flames will have no familiar faces in the lineup as they begin their exhibition season on Friday.
They host the Grandview Steelers at Planet Ice, and there are two other home games for the junior B squad this summer, as they face the Delta Ice Hawks on Aug. 25 and the North Vancouver Wolf Pack on Aug. 31. All games will be played on Sheet 2 at Planet Ice, with games times at 7:30 p.m.
First-year general manager Derek Bedard said his team has so many potential rookies in camp this year, that the Friday night game will exclusively feature players vying for their first roster spot in junior hockey.
“We’re going to be prospect heavy – there will be no vets playing on Friday night,” said Bedard.
The Ice Hawks and Flames squared off in the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship last season, in a hard-found best-of-seven series that went six games, and saw three games go to overtime. That success is part of the reason why the team has attacted so many good young players this season, said Bedard.
“We’re very pleased with the calibre of kids who have come out.”
He thinks this will be another good season. The Flames have a solid core returning with ace defender Ryan Wellburn and all-star goaltender Paul Tucek shoring up their own end of the ice.
Wellburn is in his final junior season, and will be the team captain this season. He is an offensive defenceman who put up 27 and 28 points the past two seasons.
“He’s totally committed, bleeds our team colours, and is the hardest worker in every practice,” said Bedard.
Wellburn headlines a group of veteran defenders that should keep the Flames out of trouble. Jonah Lige, Kyle Davis and Jackson O’Brien are all experienced players with two seasons under their belts.
Tucek is also in his 20-year-old season, and Bedard said he would wear a letter on his jersey if goaltenders were allowed to. He was second in the Harold Brittain Conference in goals against (2.87), wins (14) and save percentage (.911)last season, while leading with three shutouts.
So the team’s back end is a foundation to build from.
“There’s great confidence with what we have back there,” said Bedard.
Up front, early returnees include Jayden Genberg who scored 19 goals and 34 points in his rookie campaign last season. The Samuel Robertson Technical grad could likely play junior A, said Bedard, but he is university bound and will play for his hometown team.
“He had a very strong rooking year, and looks stronger now, with a year behind him,” said Bedard. “He’s a cerebral player who thinks the game well.”
Eric Bourhill is another centre who should pile up points this season. He was acquired in an off-season trade with the Delta Ice Hawks, where he put up nine goals and 13 points in 18 games.
“He’s offensively gifted, and works hard at both ends of the ice.”
Bedard is also expecting a good year from winger Logan Hunter, who had 13 goals and 33 points in 38 games with the Flames last season in. He is entering his third year in the league, and Bedard likes his combination of a good shot and foot speed.
Jarod McKay and Joshua Gibbons are forwards who have a year under their belts and Bedard is expecting them to take another step forward in their careers.
The GM has signed a pair of rookies from Maple Ridge, including goaltender Eric Clark, whom he wants to push Tucek for playing time, and Isaac Tomic, who has good size and a powerful stride, and will enter the season as an energy forward with offensive upside. He has already played 15 games with the Langley Trappers.
There will be other Flames players in BCHL team camps, and some will surely find their way back to the junior B ranks. Those talented players can make or break a roster.
“We’ll be sitting on pins and needles waiting to see who comes back,” said Bedard. “But we’re here to move kids up in the hockey world anyway. We’re giving guys the junior experience, and preparing them for the next level.”
The Flames will play six pre-season games in total, before starting the season on Sept. 7 with a home game against the Aldergrove Kodiaks.
• New this season will be the White Rock Whalers expansion team, as a 12th franchise in the PJHL, playing out of Centennial Arena. A team of the same name was part of the league from 1985 to 1989.