Ridge Meadows Flames head coach and general manager Jaime Fiset likens his current group of players to a band of brothers, one that he is pushing to play on the last day of the season.
The team has scoring depth up front and experience on the blue line and in net.
“We know we’ll be good this season,” he said.
The Flames, who lost in the first round of the playoffs last year to the Abbotsford Pilots, open the junior B exhibition season Friday at Planet Ice against the Delta Ice Hawks, 7:30 p.m.
They will play only four exhibition games this year, fewer than in the past, and practice more, focussing on systems and building chemistry.
The team will carry 23 players, and Fiset expects to have as many as 15 returnees, depending how many stick with junior A clubs after tryouts.
Players like Jake Holland, Boston Colley, Jordan Rendle and Michael Bell will be expected to be leaders and carry the offense up front, while Joe Olson, Andrew Castagna and Cam Alder will play big minutes on the back end.
Tyler Read and Kurt Klimek are expected to return and split minutes in net.
Fiset said either one could be a starter on any team in the Pacific Junior Hockey League.
“It’s a nice position to be in.”
The Flames have also recruited the top two scorers from the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds of the B.C. Major Midget League, Nick Ponak and Andrew Strelezki, who both recorded more than 50 points each, as well as Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey midget graduates Jonathin Weloy and Chris Denney.
Fiset is pleased with the players the minor hockey association continues to produce and expects to have at least six on the Flames this year.
The team will have to fill the leadership void, though, created by the graduation of last year’s captain Travis Oddy and assistant captain Trevor Sutton.
Who will wear letters this year hasn’t been decided, but there is no shortage of candidates.
Fiset said the Flames were one of the youngest teams in the league last year, by design, building around a core of players born in 1995. They were a strong offensive team, going undefeated during an eight-game stretch between November and December. Now they have more depth and experience.
The coaches were patient with the young players, not panicking if the team lost two or three games in a row, but building confidence for the future.
“It’s going to pay off this year, we think,” said Fiset, in his third season as head coach of the Flames.
He now has a group that won’t be satisfied with finishing third in the division and just making the playoffs.
“We plan to finish first in our division and go deep in the playoffs,” he said.
“We want to play on the last day of the season.”
They will attempt to do that with speed and skill and more size, an effective transition game utilizing those attributes, and great conditioning, along with sound defensive structure and a culture of hard work and team unity.
“If someone loses the puck, we want it back, right now,” Fiset said.
The players are catching on quick, he added.
“It’s a great group of guys who love to work hard. They like being around each other, pushing each other.”
It’s something that’s carried over from last year.
Klimek stood up in the dressing room between periods during a game late last season and said, ‘You know, guys, we are 23 brothers. Our job is to lift each other up.”
And they are, Fiset said.
“Guys are pushing each other to get better.”
• The Flames open the regular season at home Sept. 12.