In his three weeks as owner and head coach of the junior B Kerry Park Islanders, Brandon Cox has been a busy man.
There were no players signed when Cox took over the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League club in early July, but since then, he has confirmed the returns of at least 10 players from last year’s team and three new recruits, and made a significant trade with the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.
The Isles have gone through some ups and downs in recent seasons, and Cox is the team’s fourth owner in as many seasons, but he is committed to restoring the club to the heights it experienced not so long ago.
“The team has been around since 1970, and it used to be one of the strongest every year with the most fans,” he said. “There’s been some inconsistency with ownership the last couple of years, and I felt it was the right time.”
Cox is well-acquainted with the VIJHL. He grew up in Parksville and played for the Oceanside Generals when he was 15 before moving to the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League at 16. That was followed by four years in the B.C. Hockey League and a short minor-league career. Since then he has immersed himself in coaching and skill training.
Joining Cox in the front office will be Dean Purdy in the general manager role, and former junior, NCAA and minor pro player Jeff Grabinsky, who will help out with hockey operations.
Cox says he will focus on having local products suit up for the Islanders.
“I’m big about local kids,” he said. “We have a decent nucleus of local kids, we’re also bringing in more local kids and trying to trade for local kids.”
Already confirmed to be returning from last year’s roster are defencemen Matt Baird, Taylor Webb and Kenyon Carda, and forwards Dawson Elzinga, Kirk Whittaker, Reid Fitzpatrick, Colton Thompson, Tyler Magnuson, Evan Loucks and Cory Mater, many of whom grew up in the area.
The team has also signed goalie Kai Koerner and centre Caleb Douglas from Maple Ridge, and forward Mark Phillips from Burnaby, and completed a trade that sent Zach Blanchard, Oren Louie and Rick Takeda — all Nanaimo products — to the Comox Glacier Kings in exchange for forward Louis Ferraro defenceman Nick Mitchell.
“We definitely haven’t gotten rid of any local players,” Cox said. “There had to be some changes, obviously, so we traded some Nanaimo players away. Everyone’s calling saying we want them [local players], but these guys are big in the community, and we want to keep it that way.”
More players will be identified at the Isles’ training camp at Kerry Park Arena on Aug. 17-19. About 45 players have signed up already, with room for more to sign up before the cutoff date of Aug. 10. Contact Cox at email@example.com for more information.
After that camp, the players will have a week off to wrap up the summer before the Isles get their exhibition squad of about 30 players skating during the first week of September, with more cuts to be made from there.
The season is currently planned to start on Sept. 7. The league has backup plans to start in October, November and December, depending on how things shake out with COVID and approval from the health authorities, but Cox is optimistic that games will proceed after Labour Day.
“All signs are showing that we will start after that weekend,” he said.