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BCHL Next Generation: Cranbrook Bucks

All summer we’ll be going team-by-team to profile new players coming in for the 2020-21 season with recaps of offseason commits and acquisitions. We will also have interviews and scouting reports from the coaches.

Next up is the Cranbrook Bucks.

The timing for the Cranbrook Bucks is unfortunate as they wait to make their BCHL debut as an expansion franchise, bringing the league’s total to 18 teams.

The start of the regular season has been delayed due to the pandemic, but the team is still very much a topic of conversation around town as Cranbrook and the surrounding communities patiently wait for the return of junior hockey after the WHL’s Kootenay Ice moved to Winnipeg at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.

In late March, the team announced they had hired former Yale University assistant Ryan Donald as the team’s first head coach and general manager. Since the announcement, Donald has been in Cranbrook preparing for the season and he says there is definitely a buzz in the air.

“There’s a ton of excitement,” said Donald. “It’s a hockey market for sure. There’s a long history of hockey here. As a new team, we’re going to start something new and build our own history, which will be fun and exciting. We’ve had great renovations done at our arena here to make it feel like home for our new franchise in town. Everybody’s excited.”

Donald had a brief coaching stint with the Trail Smoke Eaters, but most of his resume is built on his five years as an assistant with Yale. He also played at Yale as a defenceman from 2006 to 2010 before embarking on a three-year pro career.

With his lengthy experience in college hockey from playing and coaching at the Divsion I level, he’ll bring a wealth of knowledge that he’s player can undoubtedly learn from on their quest to reach that same level.

“It helps to prepare our guys for that,” he said. “Ultimately, their goal is to play college hockey. I think we can help our players to gain an understanding of what is required of them in terms of the level of expectation, performance and commitment. That’s nutrition, preparation, sleep, performance on the ice and off the ice. We’ll help those guys develop those habits, round them out and prepare them to hopefully reach that level.”

New recruits:

Connor Sullivan (2000, D)

  • Hometown: Plymouth, Mass.
  • Previous team: Boston Jr. Bandits (NCDC)
  • College commitment: Yale University (2021-22)

Sullivan led all defencemen in scoring in the NCDC last year and was his team’s third-leading scorer overall with 45 points in 50 games. His 38 assists were also most on the team.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He’s a guy that I’m pretty familiar with and I think he’s going to hit the ground running as a 20-year-old player that’s ready to play in this league. He’s going to be relied upon to do a lot of different things on the ice, but also provide some leadership off the ice as well.”

Noah Leibl (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Del Mar, Calif.
  • Previous team: Shawnigan Lake School Prep (CSSHL)

Leibl led Shawnigan Lake in scoring last season with 62 points in 36 games, which put him ninth in scoring in all of the CSSHL. His 31 goals were also tops on his team and tied for seventh in the league. The 18-year-old has some BCHL experience, having played in two games for the Vernon Vipers last year as an affiliate.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He’s a guy that was recruited throughout our league, but he wanted to come and be a part of what we’re going to do here. He wants to take the next step in his game and become a college player. He can do a little bit of everything. He protects the puck well. He’s a smart player, so he usually makes the right decision with it. He also understands how to be on the right side of the puck when he needs to be.”

Dane Dowiak (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Wexford, Pa.
  • Previous team: The Gunnery (USHS-Prep)
  • College commitment: Penn State University (2021-22)

The 18-year-old was over a point per game last year with his prep team, putting up 43 points in 33 contests, good enough for fourth in team scoring.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He’s a prep-school kid who’s produced a lot of offence in his career. He’s a guy that fits the way we want to play. He’s going to be creative with the puck and create some offence that way. We’re going to rely on him to play both sides of the puck, be hard, fast and aggressive and ultimately to create some offensive chances from that.”

Briggs Gammill (2001, F)

  • Hometown: New Canaan, Conn.
  • Previous team: Berkshire School (USHS-Prep)
  • College Commitment: Yale University (2021-22)

Gammill had a breakout year in his fourth season at Berkshire in 2019-20. He scored 25 goals and added 20 assists for 45 points in 29 games to finish second in team scoring.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He’s a competitor. He’s a 200-foot player that’s been a leader everywhere he’s been. He’s a really mature kid. He’s committed to go down to school, so he’s going to be a player that we can prepare to be an impact college player. One of the things he was excited about was becoming a part of an expansion team and getting to be a part of that foundation.”

Jacob Zacharewicz (2001, G)

  • Hometown: Riverhead, N.Y.
  • Previous team: Islanders Hockey Club (NCDC)
  • College commitment: Brown University (2021-22)

Zacharewicz had the fifth-best save percentage in the NCDC last year with a mark of .930 and his 2.43 goals-against average was sixth-best in the league. He finished the 2019-20 season with 22 appearances and a record of 13-5-2.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He’s a goaltender that’s ready for this level. I’ve seen him play for the last few years and watched him from afar and we really like what he has. He competes and he battles. He’s still somewhat raw and he can use a bit of refinement, as all goalies can. He’s coming in prepared to work and to be a big part of what we’ll be able to do here in our first season and moving forward.”

AJ Vasko (2002, F)

  • Hometown: La Salle, Man.
  • Previous team: Rink Hockey Academy Prep (CSSHL)

Vasko was the captain at Rink Academy in 2019-20, his second season with the prep team. He finished as their second-leading scorer last year with 56 points in 31 games.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He’s got some offence in his game, but he works his tail off. He’s a guy that’s going to do everything right. I think he’s going to play in all situations for us. He doesn’t shy away. He gets on top of pucks. He’ll play along the wall. He’ll play in front of the net. He plays in the hard areas of the game and ultimately possesses a pretty good amount of skill where he can play with some good players and be the guy that’s going to roll up his sleeves and get to work. We’re hoping that bleeds a little bit into the rest of our group.”

Bauer Morrissey (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Leesburg, Va.
  • Previous team: Milbrook School (USHS-Prep)

Morrissey led all Milbrook blueliners in goals last year with 10 and had the second-most points among defencemen with 29 in 32 contests.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He’s always been a really good three-zone defenceman. He’s a guy that can skate, carry the puck and join the offence. His speed and mobility are quite good as well, so he can defend really well. Once he gets in here and adjusts to this level, he can be a pretty productive player.”

Noah Quinn (2003, F)

  • Hometown: Nelson, B.C.
  • Previous team: Kootenay Ice U18 AAA (BC U18)

In 40 games last season, Quinn led the Ice in goals, with 21, assists, with 24, and points, with 45.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He’ll be a 17-year-old for us, so he’s a guy that’s going to have some growing to do, but we think that with the tools he has and his ability and puck skills, he’s good enough that we’ll be able to work with him and help him grow and develop his skills in our environment. He’s got a pretty high ceiling to reach and we’re going to help him get there.”

Owen Forfellow (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Abbotsford, B.C.
  • Previous team: Fraser Valley Thunderbirds U18 AAA (BC U18)

Forfellow played two years for the Thunderbirds and was their second-highest scoring defenceman in 2019-20 with 24 points in 33 games. He also played in a pair of games with the Coquitlam Express last season as an affiliate.

Donald’s scouting report:

“Owen’s more of a typical defensive defenceman, but he can do a little bit of everything. He’s a guy with size and length, but also moves really well. We think that he can emerge over his career to be a well-rounded defenceman that can eat minutes playing defensively and also chip in offensively.”

Christian Lowe (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Port Moody, B.C.
  • Previous team: Vancouver NE Chiefs U18 AAA (BC U18)

Lowe spent the last three seasons with the Chiefs and was named captain in 2019-20. In 2018-19, he had 31 points in 39 games and last year he put up 27 in 28 contests. Lowe also played in five games for the Coquitlam Express last year as an affiliate, scoring one goal and adding three assists.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He had a couple offers and ultimately wanted to come out here and believed in the opportunity that he’d have. With the speed and the pace of our game, he’s a strong enough skater and quick enough that he’s going to get it all figured out and be a productive player. He can do a little bit of everything. He fits our mold up front where we’re going to have some depth guys that can be really versatile forwards.”

Carson Kurylo (2000, D)

  • Hometown: Calgary, Alta.
  • Previous team: Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)

Kurylo brings plenty of Junior A experience with him, having played three seasons in the AJHL prior to joining Cranbrook. After his rookie season with the Drumheller Dragons, he spent the last two with Camrose. In total, the 19-year-old has 137 AJHL regular-season games under his belt and has 55 career points.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He’s the only guy right now coming to us with Junior A experience. We’re going to lean on him to be a major 200-foot defenceman. He’s a guy that can play both ends of the ice and we’re going to rely on him to do a bunch of different things for us, whether it’s defending against quality opponents or helping out on the offensive end. He’s going to be a leader for us based on his experience.”

Brendan Rogers (2001, F)

  • Hometown: Nanaimo, B.C.
  • Previous team: Nanaimo Bucks (VIJHL)

Rogers played parts of three seasons with the Bucks, leading the team in scoring last year with 37 points in 47 games. He also played one game for the Powell River Kings as an affiliate in 2018-19.

Donald’s scouting report:

“We really like what his game’s about. He’s got a bit of offence to him, but he also plays hard and plays the right way. He has a little bit of an edge to his game. He’s going to make other teams have to work when he’s on the ice. He’s a guy that we think is ready to make the jump to Junior A.”

Rhys Bentham (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Calgary, Alta.
  • Previous team: Calgary Royals U18 AAA (AEHL U18)

Bentham was the captain of the Royals U18 team last season. He played 66 games over two years there and contributed three goals and 22 assists.

Donald’s scouting report:

“Rhys is a well-rounded player. He’s a guy that’s always been a leader with his teams. He’s smart and responsible. He’ll be a good player for us – a guy that does a little bit of everything. We’re looking forward to getting him into our program and developing his game for the next level.”

Zeth Kindrachuk (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Calgary, Alta.
  • Previous team: Calgary Royals U18 AAA (AEHL U18)

The 18-year-old had 10 goals and 11 assists in 23 games for the Royals U18 team last season.

Donald’s scouting report:

“He plays the way we want to play in terms of his speed and being able to move his feet well. He can also move the puck quickly. He’s got a good awareness to his game. He’ll also able to produce a bit of offence for us. As time goes along, he’ll be able to mature and grow and gain a little more strength on his frame. He’ll be a good player.”

Photo credits: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images (Sullivan, Dowiak, Gammill, Zacharewicz, Morrissey), Dave Waitling Photography (Vasko), Trent Rolfe (Forfellow), Rylee Smolarchuk (Lowe), Sean Mascaluk/Pro Sports Photography (Kurylo)