The Ridge Meadows Flames are set at three key positions.
The local junior B hockey team will ice split squads to open the exhibition season, first Friday at home against the North Van WolfPack, then Aug. 25 against the Port Moody Panthers.
They won’t open the regular season until Sept. 8, at Planet Ice in Maple Ridge, but already general manager Jaime Fiset is confident the team is stable at centre, defense and in net.
Andrew Strelezki returns as captain of a team that went 22-18-2-2 in hot-and-cold regular season, then won a playoff round before being swept by the Aldergrove Kodiaks.
Strelezki, who turns 20 in September, led the Flames in scoring last year with 22 goals and 45 points in 41 games. He then recorded seven points in eight playoff contests.
“He’s dedicated and definitly back for this year,” Fiset said.
Ryan Wellburn, who Fiset said was one of the top defensement in the Pacific Junior Hockey League a year ago, returns to anchor the blueline. Wellburn, 19, had 28 points in 35 games last year.
“We’re happy to have him back,” Fiset added.
“Those two will help a tremendous amount.”
So will Paul Tucek, 19. The goalie posted eight wins, a 2.87 goals against average and .908 saves percentage as a rookie in 2016-17.
Fiset is also excited about a player he acquired a week ago, a trade linked to the Flames moving Bradley Crompton at the end of last season.
The current three-way trade with the Delta Ice Hawks and Port Moody Panthers brings Logan Hunter to the Flames.
Hunter had 31 points, including 10 goals, in 39 games with PoMo last year.
“He’s a very skilled two-way player,” who Fiset expects to see on the powerplay.
“And he’s fast and shifty.”
The Flames have also signed three local players: Ian MacDonald, Devon Taylor and Jayden Genberg.
MacDonald, an intelligent defenseman, was captain of the Northeast Chiefs in the B.C. Major Midget League last year. He had 25 point in 37 games.
MacDonald will be attending junior A camps, but if he comes to the Flames, Fiset expects him to contribute right away.
Taylor is an athletic and skilled forward who played for Valley West Hawks in major midget last year.
Fiset is impressed with the improvements he has seen from Taylor this summer, most notably his on-ice anticipation.
“He’s looking really good right now,” he added. “He picks things up quick.”
Genberg is “highly skilled’ forward who had 12 points with the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds in major midget last year, when he also affiliated witht the Flames.
“He fit in well.”
Fiset has also been impressed with a few other local products, including defensemen Nick Rousell and Braeden Hallman.
He’s looking to continue building a roster with speed and skill, and one that can be more consistent than last year’s group, which struggled with injuries.
The season is a “bit of a grind,” so Fiset wants players who are looking to improve each game.
Back as an assistant captain is forward Quenton Magnuson, who had 11 goals and 19 points a year ago.
“He looks very strong,” so far.
Magnuson is one of three 20-year-olds the Flames will carry, along with Brendan Murphy and Strelezki.
The Flames lost their second leading scorer, local product Halen Cordoni, to a junior A team in Ontario, while Tristan Tressel is not returning.
• The Flames have added a new black road jersey this season, complimenting the white home one introduced last year.