Hockey fans can expect to see a young, talented team when this year’s Campbell River Storm players take the ice for the start of the regular season.
“I think we’ll play with a lot of pace and we want to attack the game; certainly be an aggressive team as much as we can be,” says Coach Lee Stone.
As always, the goal this year is to develop players so they’re ready to play in higher leagues.
“There’s guys that really want to play at the next level and obviously that’s a theme here and something that we want to help do is promote them,” he says. “The goal stays the same: to continue to try to promote them to that level and win a lot of games in the meantime.”
Storm staff have been busy recruiting players this summer as much of last year’s championship-run team has moved on.
In these early days, with many new players joining the ranks, the team has been working at building chemistry. Stone says it will develop naturally on its own as the players leave their hometowns and the routines that go along with that, but that doesn’t mean the staff won’t try to help.
“We’ll probably do a variety of different things,” says Stone. “Take them rock climbing and just little things to try and pull them out of their shell and grow that trust within the room.”
With home-opener weekend quickly approaching, the team was getting prepped for the season Tuesday with practices, head shots and promotional material.
“Today was very much a systems-based pratice, trying to get our discipline down in terms of understanding our structure and what we want done on a daily basis and I thought we picked it up really well for day one.” says Stone. “ Obviously we want to continue to try to utilize that in those exhibition games as we move forward and hopefully be ready for the home-opener.”
The team already has one exhibition game in the books– a 3-2 victory Monday against the Oceanside Generals. They’ll suit up next against the Nanaimo Buckaneers at the Rod Brind’Amour Arena at 7:30 tonight for the second of four pre-season exhibition games.
With some changes to the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League this year, including a cap on the number of 20-year-old players each time can have (six), Stone says the league is trending younger. So far the team only has one 20-year-old, Scott Arbuckle, who is entering his first season with the Storm.
While teams usually rely on 20-year-old players to form their leadership core, Stone isn’t worried. A number of the Storm’s 19-year-olds are up to the task.
“I think we have half a dozen kids in that group that could fit into that leadership group so for us it’s exciting that there’ll be guys who don’t have letters on their jerseys who are still leaders,” he says. “I think that’s a really important thing to have in the room.”
The league has also made changes to how shoot-outs and overtime will be played during the regular season.
If games remain deadlocked after three periods, there will be one sudden-death seven-minute period of three-on-three hockey. If the game remains tied, there will be a shoot-out. This eliminates tied games.
“With the fans and the crowd, we want to try and give them a winner and honestly if it goes to overtime and a shootout, even the old school people that don’t like the shootout too much, they walk away happy,” he says.
In the past, teams played a five-minute four-on-four period, and if the game remained tied, a five-minute period of three-on-three. If there was no goal in those 10 minutes, it was a tie.
“The four-on-four and the three-on-three was usually very exciting so there’s this big hype and this big build-up and then the final buzzer hits and it’s like oh, we’re going home,” says Stone. “This way at least we’ll have a winner every night.”
Another change the league has made for the 2019/2020 season is the playoff final format. This year, after two intra-division post-season playoff series, the final will pit the best team in the North against the best team out of the South.
There will be a couple more chances to catch the Storm in action at the Brindy before the home-opener weekend.
The Storm face the Nanaimo Buckaneers at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Next up, they host the Richmond Sockeyes on Sat., Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sun., Sept. 1 at 2:30 p.m.
The team is hosting a tailgate barbecue ahead of that Saturday match-up. Stone says it’s a great opportunity for the community to meet some of this season’s team. Stone will be behind the grill, offering up burgers and salmon fillets.
The Storm start their regular season at home on Fri., Sept. 6 against the Comox Valley Glacier Kings. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m.