The Kerry Park Islanders began the challenging process of rebuilding their team for the 2016-17 Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League season when training camp opened this week.
The team will have just five back from last year’s roster: forwards Caleb Franklin, Ty Berger and Parker Ellis, defenceman Connor Bissett, and goalie Chase Anderson. It’s a daunting task to rebuild, but Islanders owner Mark Osmond trusts head coach Aaron Spotts with the task.
“Aaron is doing his best to recruit guys,” Osmond said, noting that Spotts has scoured the Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, B.C., and even Alberta and eastern Canada to find new players.
“I think we’ll be very young,” Osmond said. “More skilled, but young and inexperienced. If they can gel together, we’ll be OK, but it will be a big learning curve.”
The Isles had eight players age out of junior hockey last year. Four players they were hoping to get back this year have moved up to junior A: Keenan Eddy with the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, Braedan Cross and Leighton Williams with the Cochrane Crunch of the NOJHL, and Dawson Haines with the Drayton Valley Thunder of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Another expected returnee, Josiah Nadon, who the Isles brass had pencilled in as their captain, opted to leave hockey to focus on university.
Among those the team is looking at to fill the holes is local 16-year-old Samson McLean, a prospect of the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs who played last year with the Pacific Coast Hockey Academy of the Canadian Sports School Hockey League and has signed with Kerry Park. Centre Abe Lamontagne is back after spending most of last year in Ontario, playing in the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League.
Two other new recruits — forward Eric Leblanc and goalie Rett Rook — are away at the Cowichan Valley Capitals’ camp this week, along with Franklin, Berger and Bissett, but Osmond anticipates getting all those five players back.
The Islanders will play exhibition games on Saturday against the Oceanside Generals in Parksville and against the Victoria Cougars at Archie Browning Arena on Monday, followed by a home date with the Saanich Braves on Aug. 31, starting at 7:30 p.m. Admission to the home game is free.
Osmond expects his players to combat hard this season, regardless of their experience.
“Most of the players we have this year want to get to the next level, so that’s good from a coaching standpoint,” he said. “They will play hard. I think we’ll be fast and exciting.”