Local hockey fans are in for a rare treat this weekend when the Campbell River Storm play host to an unfamiliar opponent.
The North Vancouver Wolf Pack of the Pacific Junior Hockey League invade Strathcona Gardens Saturday and Sunday night for a pair of exhibition games.
Storm Head Coach Lee Stone expects a couple of tough games from the Wolf Pack, who finished second in their division last season and had some success in the playoffs until being eliminated by the Richmond Sockeyes.
“I think they will be one of the better teams in the PJHL again this season,” Stone said.
“They have a couple of younger guys that are really talented so it should be a good test for us.”
With the start of the regular season just a week away, both teams will be taking a long look at their crop of ‘young guns’, who have a last chance to make a good impression before final rosters are set.
Among the rookies expected to dress for the Storm are 16-year-olds Jaden McNulty, Andy Stevens, and Liam Nijhoff.
“I thought Nijhoff played really well for us in Victoria last weekend,” Stone said.
“He’s a real physical guy – he kind of reminds me of Gavin Rauser. It will be interesting to see how he performs in front of the home crowd.”
Stone says another player to watch this weekend is 15-year-old Campbell River product Brett Stapley, who played the past three seasons for the North Shore Winter Club.
“He was at Calgary camp (Calgary Hitmen of the WHL) this summer, scored a boat load of points over there, and was one of only three rookies invited back to their main camp,” Stone said.
“He has great vision and I think he’ll play real well for us.”
Stapley, who is still a year away from junior hockey eligibility, will suit up for the North Island Silvertips of the BC Major Midget League this season and may register as an affiliate player with the Storm.
A couple more names local fans should keep an eye on this weekend are skilled forwards Kyle Truax from Colorado and Kobe Oishi, who was a member the BCMML provincial champion Okanagan Rockets last season.
The Storm is coming off an impressive 4-1 victory over the defending VIJHL champion Victoria Cougars last weekend.
The game featured outstanding goaltending by newcomers Anthony Ciurro and Kyle Cheema along with strong play by the defensive corps, now under the tutelage of new assistant coach Curtis Toneff.
“I’m really excited about working with this group,” he says.
“I think we have a little bit of everything back there – we have the leadership of (Jordan) Rauser and (Brendan) Enns, and some young guys that can really play the game.”
The excitement this weekend begins at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon with a tailgate party at Strathcona Gardens.
The opening faceoff for both Saturday and Sunday night games is set for 7:30 p.m. at Strathcona Gardens’ Rod Brind’Amour Arena.