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Returners, debuts and other notables

Training camp and preseason are officially over and now the action starts for real as the BCHL regular season fires up off this weekend, the 57th in league history.

As usual there are plenty of storylines heading into the season, after a summer that saw a great deal of change in the league including a new commissioner in Chris Hebb and several coaches changes which are noted below.

There are lots of familiar faces too, and they’ll be counted on to provide leadership and major ice time for their respective clubs.

So again there will be no shortage of talking points. Here areĀ  just a few of them:

Key returning players:

  • Ty Westgard – Surrey Eagles:
    Westgard is the top scorer among all returning players. The Surrey native finished tied for second in league scoring with 70 points last year and led his hometown team to the second round of the BCHL playoffs.
  • Alex Newhook – Victoria Grizzlies:
    Newhook finished eighth in scoring last season and took home the Bruce Allison Memorial Trophy as the BCHL’s top rookie. The 17-year-old has been ranked as high as top-5 in many 2019 NHL Draft projections.
  • Ben Berard – Powell River Kings:
    The 19-year-old from Duncan, B.C. returns to a Kings team that he led in scoring last season with with 67 points, good enough for a tie for seventh in the league. Berard also tied for the team lead with 20 points in the Kings run to the third round of the Fred Page Cup playoffs.
  • Lucas Sowder – Wenatchee Wild:
    Sowder enters his third season in Wenatchee on a high after putting up 60 points in 48 games on last year’s league-champion Wild team. He also finished tied for fourth in playoff scoring. After being injured in the Doyle Cup series against the Spruce Grove Saints, the Minnesota State commit was able to return to the lineup for the RBC Cup and scored the overtime-winning goal in Wenatchee’s tournament opener against the Chilliwack Chiefs.
  • Austin Roden – Merritt Centennials:
    Roden was outstanding for the Centennials after being acquired from the Nanaimo Clippers midseason. The Victoria native finished the season with the second-best save percentage in the BCHL at .931 and the fifth-best goals-against average at 2.40 with two shutouts.
  • Carter Berger – Victoria Grizzlies
    The dynamic blueliner is back for a third BCHL season and hitting double digits in goals and reaching 34 points, tripling his production from his rookie campaign in 2016-17. It was an exciting offseason for Berger who was invited to attend Anaheim Ducks development camp.

Coaching debuts:

  • Brian Maloney – Chilliwack Chiefs:
    Maloney is in a unique situation where he already has a national title under his belt after winning the RBC Cup last year with the Chiefs, but will make his BCHL regular-season debut as a head coach Friday night in Prince George.
  • Mike Vandekamp – Cowichan Valley Capitals:
    After coaching the Nanaimo Clippers for five seasons, Vandekamp remains in the BCHL’s Island Division as he takes over a Capitals team that finished at the bottom of the league standings last year. This will be his 12th season coaching in the BCHL. It won’t take long for Vandekamp to face his former team as they take on the Clippers on Saturday.
  • Tyler Kuntz – Powell River Kings:
    Kuntz, who played one year for the Burnaby Bulldogs in 1998-99, will make his BCHL coaching debut Saturday against the Victoria Grizzlies. The Lumsden, Sask. native previously was an assistant coach for the Vancouver Giants, head coach of the UBC Thunderbirds and coached the Daemyung Killer Whales last year in South Korea.
  • Geoff Grimwood – West Kelowna Warriors:
    After being an assistant coach in the BCHL for several years, Grimwood gets his first chance at being a head coach in the league Friday when his team takes on the Trail Smoke Eaters. He was previously an assistant coach with the Powell River Kings for two years and made coaching stops in the WHL and SJHL before joining the Warriors.
  • Jeff Tambellini – Trail Smoke Eaters
    After a year spent as an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Michigan, Tambellini scored his first gig as a head man when it was announced this past spring. It feels like the perfect fit with Tambellini’s father Steve and grandfather Addie both being hockey legends from Trail.
  • Peter Schaefer – Surrey Eagles
    Not so much a debut as a return to the fold because Schaefer was an assistant in Surrey in 2012-13 and was head coach in 2013-14 when he had a young Danton Heinen on the roster.

Opening weekend – playoff rematches:

  • Wenatchee Wild @ Vernon Vipers:
    These two teams met in the second round of last year’s BCHL playoffs and will meet again in Friday’s season opener. After dropping the first two games on the road in last year’s series, the Wild responded with four straight victories to eliminate the Vipers en route to their first-ever league championship.
  • Chilliwack Chiefs @ Prince George Spruce Kings:
    These teams went the distance in the first round of last year’s Fred Page Cup playoffs as the Spruce Kings defeated the Chiefs in seven games. In a series featuring an immense amount of travel and incredible goaltending , Prince George won the deciding game by a score of 3-1 to advance to the next round. The teams will play back-to-back games in Prince George to kick off the season starting Friday.
  • West Kelowna Warriors @ Trail Smoke Eaters:
    The Warriors will look to avenge last year’s disappointing playoff performance where they were swept by the Smoke Eaters who scored 23 goals in four games. Both teams have head coaches making their BCHL debut behind the bench. They will play a home-and-home starting Friday in Trail.
  • Victoria Grizzlies @ Powell River Kings:
    These teams met in last year’s postseason for the fifth time in six years and the Kings came out victorious in five games. Both teams are returning high-scoring forwards who are looking to improve on impressive 2017-18 seasons. They open their seasons Saturday in Powell River.