Warriors move on up, WCC next

And the last shall be first.

Always at the end of the line alphabetically in the list of BCHL teams, the West Kelowna Warriors have risen to the top of the heap. They claimed the first Fred Page Cup in franchise history on Saturday with a 4-2 win over the Chilliwack Chiefs and are now off to Estevan, Sask. to represent the BCHL at the Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup (WCC).

In a similar fashion, Warriors forward Kylar Hope – for two seasons a bottom-six forward who had produced just 16 goals and 17 assists in 107 games during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns – rose to the top of the heap in BCHL playoff scoring. The Lashburn, Sask. native tied with Chilliwack’s Jordan Kawaguchi for tops among postseason scorers with 24 points and tied with teammate Jonathan Desbiens with 15 goals.

This after a season in which Hope blew up for 28-46-74 while playing all 58 regular-season games for the Warriors. His season saw him earn an NCAA Div. I scholarship to Alaska-Fairbanks for next season after finishing second in team scoring behind Desbiens.

“I think it was just opportunity – I got to play more,” said Hope of his breakout final BCHL season. “I started penalty killing last February (2015); it gets you into the game more and that helps.

“I started playing with Desbiens – I don’t know, it all worked out.”

No question about that. And the timing couldn’t have been better. With Desbiens already in the fold as a proven offensive weapon and Liam Blackburn back after it was thought he might go to NCAA New Hampshire after last season, the Warriors enjoyed depth up front they had not seen in head coach Rylan Ferster’s five years with the club.

“He’s been our best player since Feb. 1 of last year,” said Ferster. “We talked a lot, he and I. We sat down at the start of this year and I said, ‘I really want you to kill penalties.’

“I’m a firm believer that good things happen to good people. He’s a high-end recruit coming in (in 2013). Not once was he in (my office) asking for more ice time or a trade. Not one time. He’s a great Saskatchewan kid. At the end of the day, it’s a feel-good story.”

Ferster, a native of Prince Albert, Sask. definitely has a strong connection to his home province. Now, he and Hope – along with another Prince Albert native in Reed Gunville – are headed back home for the Western Canada Cup in Estevan.

“It’s a long ways from Prince Albert, but at the end of the day it’s just nice to be playing,” said Ferster. “It’s a nice feeling to be home in Saskatchewan; I’m a huge (CFL) ‘Riders fan, a huge P.A. Raiders fan. I’m a very proud Saskatchewan guy.”

As a junior hockey player, Ferster remembers going to the old barn in Estevan to play the Bruins when he was a member of the Nipawin club. Now it’s a new rink, Affinity Place. For Hope, who is from Lashburn which is far north and west of Estevan, it will be a first.

“I’m really excited to go back; I’ve never been to Estevan to be honest,” said Hope. “Talking to my parents and they’ve never been there either. I’ll have my parents, grandparents, two uncles. Lots of family and maybe some friends too.”

Hope says he knows at least one player on each of the other WCC teams as well so he may be leaned on for a bit of a scouting report. That lies mainly with the coaching staff but Ferster says it’s most important to focus on what they can control, which is what kind of shape the Warriors’ game is in.

“We’ll try to get as much scouting done on them as possible, but it’s more about us being ready,” said Ferster. “In these short competitions, it’s almost like a one-shot showdown; you prepare for one team and then the next. You have a way you like your guys to play, how you have success, that’s what you have to worry about.”

The worries can wait for a few days anyway. The Warriors enjoyed a meet-and-greet fan appreciation night Monday where players signed autographs and took pictures with the Fred Page Cup.

“There’s been lots of positive feedback, especially last night,” said Hope. “There were people saying they’ve watched me as a player and wishing I could stay for another year. Just being around town, you see a lot of businesses with Go Warriors or BCHL Champs signs. There’s lots of support.”

That’s comforting for the next phase in Estevan. Hope is happiest for his coach and for another influential person in his hockey career.

“I’m so happy for him, and happy for (Warriors owners) Mark Cheyne too. You could see it in the fans’ faces. They’ve waited a long time for this.”

So no problem waiting a few more days until the Warriors are in action again, which happens Saturday when they face the WCC host Estevan Bruins. Game time is 6 p.m. Pacific from Affinity Place.