Jamie Fiset, after 10 years with the Ridge Meadows Flames in the Pacific Junior Hockey League and the same time with B.C. Hockey, has had a front row seat in watching the game evolve.
Gone are the days of just picking the biggest kids, or based on where they played last year, or being one who just scores goals.
While there are roles for all types of players, the general manager of the local junior B team said more than ever the emphasis is on speed and skill, as well as character – good teammates who love to come to the rink and are just as proud to block a shot or back check as they are to put up points.
Jonathan Toews is the model for many young players today, a champion who is willing to sacrifice scoring for winning, and Fiset thinks he has such a type in the team’s new captain.
Andrew Strelezki, a forward from Mission, had 12 goals and 26 points in 37 games with the Flames last season.
But it was his play in the first-round series with the first-place Mission City Outlaws that impressed Fiset most.
The Flames, despite leading the series 3-0, lost to Mission in seven games. Strelezki had five goals and eight points in the series and displayed great energy and leadership.
Normally, Fiset said, the team would name a 20-year-old as captain. But picking Strelezki, 19, was an easy decision.
“He doesn’t need to be a guy who just scores goals,” Fiset said. “He’s good in all three zones and just likes to compete. He’s got really good practice habits, which translates into consistency in his games.”
The Flames, who start the exhibition season on Friday, have 30 players remaining in camp, including a few other returnees.
Quenton Magnuson and Tristan Tressel are two. Both are local forwards who had impressive first seasons with the Flames. Fiset is hoping they can build on that.
He is counting on Tressel to win key face-offs and shut down opposing teams’ top players.
Magnuson is a player who Fiset said makes whoever he is playing with better.
“If a player needs a boost, we put him with Quenton,” Fiset added. “He uses his line mates well and is unselfish – a dynamite kid.”
Halen Cordoni, another local player, also returns, and Fiset said he could lead the team in scoring this year. Cordoni, a blend of speed and power, had 10 goals and 33 points last season.
On the blueline, Fiset expects to lose three or four defensemen from last year to junior A teams.
“So we’re not sure about the back end yet.”
In net, the Flames traded goalie Jason Sandhu in the off-season, but signed Paul Tucek of the B.C. Major Midget league. He is expected to be one of the team’s two goalies. Three or four players are still competing for the other spot, but Fiset said Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey product Matthew Trulsen could stick with the team.
“He had a really good camp last week.”
As for other local players, Fiset said forwards Jakob Mainhout and Devon Taylor, who were both with the Ridge midget A1 team last season, are still with the Flames.
“We are excited to see what they can do.”
Overall, Fiset expects the Flames to be faster than last year, and deeper in talent.
The league is getting younger, as well, he said.
It used to be that teams would take more older players, but are now finding they can be competitive with younger ones.
He saw that last year, as the Flames came within a game of upsetting Mission.
The young guys played well, he said.
Fiset resigned as head coach of the Flames part-way through last year, handing over the team to Bayne Ryshak so he could focus more on his developmental role with B.C. Hockey.
Fiset is head coach of the B.C. under-16 boys’ team this season, and was recently a guest coach at a Canada under-17 camp.
“It was unreal,” the talent he saw at the latter, including Joseph Valeno, of the St. John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL.
Fiset watched other top-level players and talked with other coaches.
Again, with Team B.C. and at the national camp, the emphasis was on speed and skill.
“If you can’t skate, you can’t compete.”
Fiset is looking for the same with the Flames, and thinks he has the beginnings of a team that reflects that.
Teams used to have two skilled forward lines and filled the others with “minutes-eaters.” While someone still has to go into the corners and get the puck, Fiset is looking for four balanced lines, and identifying roles for players, those with positive personal characteristics.
“We’re looking less now for size and whether they are physical, and more what they are doing on the ice,” with and without the puck.
The Flames want to play hockey the “Canadian way” – the most prepared, the most educated, the most skilled.
Fiset said Ryshak did a great job coaching the team last year and looks forward to more of the same.