The 2014/15 edition of the Campbell River Storm makes its debut this weekend with a VIJHL pre-season tilt Sunday afternoon in Victoria against the Cougars. Local hockey fans will recall that it was the Cougars that ended the Storm’s playoff hopes last spring, winning a tense, spirited semi-final series in five games.
Although it’s only an exhibition affair, Campbell River head coach Lee Stone said he expects the two teams to pick up right where they left off in March.
“The team we are taking to Victoria is very close to the team our fans will see on opening night,” he said. “At the end of the coming season Victoria is probably the team we are going to have to beat [to win the Island]. At the start of the year you want to have a real good game, even though it’s only exhibition – I think it sets the tone for the entire season.”
There also may be a measure of revenge involved according to associate coach Stefan Jensen.
“You have to take into consideration the last game our returning guys played was against Victoria in the playoffs, he said. “They knocked us out and there are still a lot of hard feelings about that.”
Both Stone and Jensen have high expectations for the coming season, especially after witnessing the exceptional skill level exhibited last weekend at Strathcona Gardens during main camp.
“I was really impressed with the effort level from everybody,” said Stone, who is entering his second season at the helm. “It was a very talented camp, probably the most talented camp on the Island.”
Stone expects to have a veteran roster, with as many as ten returning players, and notes some have already made their presence felt.
“Josiah Friesen had an excellent camp,” he said, noting that he believes assigning him one of the team’s assistant captains at the end of last season boosted his confidence.
Another player picked out by the coaching staff to be one to watch this season is Michael Olson, who they say they have high expectations for after his stand out performance in training camp.
Among the surprises at camp were young forwards Jaden McNulty and Ben Raffler, who led the scrimmages in points and plus-minus respectively, and 16-year-old Campbell River product Sage Lim who scored three times in three games.
The Storm roster will feature the largest crop of local products in recent memory, led by team captain Jordan Rauser and his tenacious younger brother Gavin.
Other former Tyees cracking the line-up include forwards James Severs and Grady McInnes along with defensemen Brendan Enns, Joe Gage, and Andy Stevens. Add Comox Valley’s Joe Surgenor to the mix and the Central Island is well represented.
“Any time you have local talent, it’s great,” Stone said, “But the key word there is talent. You don’t just want locals, you want young men that have the ability to play. That’s the exciting thing, any team on Vancouver Island would love to have any of these players.”
Campbell River fans get their first look at the new squad next weekend.
The Storm will host The North Vancouver Wolfpack in a pair of exhibition games set for Saturday and Sunday nights, Aug. 30 and 31, at Rod Brind’Amour Arena.