Hockey season has returned, and the 2012-2013 Columbia Valley Rockies are generating a level of buzz and excitement that has everyone involved with the team itching to get the new season started.
“We want to get our local kids, we want to get them back to a place where they’re growing up going, ‘Hey, we want to be a [Rockies player],'” Rockies vice president Graeme Anderson said.
The first thing many Columbia Valley Rockies fans will notice this upcoming season is the pure amount of players practically spilling out of the dressing room. After a season where it wasn’t uncommon to see five Rockies skaters on the ice and six players manning the bench, having a full complement of skaters should by itself guarantee a few more wins. While there will be many new Rockies players entering the lineup this season, and many players new to even the KIJHL, head coach and general manager Marc Ward sees a common thread and characteristic shared by everyone who came through training camp and exhibition games.
“Character… I’m looking for hard working guys, and the biggest things is guys who want to make it to the next level,” Ward said. “If you get guys who want to get to the next level, you get those other things, [those players] have that character, and that drive and they’re coachable, and I think we have a dressing room full of them.”
Entering his second full year as general manager and head coach, Ward has now had a full season to evaluate players and put into place the kind of system and winning culture that he would like to see moving forward.
He said his main focus still lies with developing players as opposed to a “win now” attitude, however he added that the two are not necessarily mutually
“You want to win as quick as you can, but winning is a byproduct of player development,” Ward said. “You’ve got a brand new team in front of you, you’ve got some returning guys, but you have a brand new team to mold and they have to learn to play together, and get comfortable in the league.”
With so many new players entering the fold, Ward said the onus of leading and teaching newer players rests with the veterans, who are familiar with the way the club operates. Second-year defenceman Brendan Sage was quick to agree, and said that he was extremely excited to take on the added responsibilities.
“We have a good group of guys here… I feel like I need to step up into a leading role — losing I think all of our captains — so I would like to fill those shoes,” Sage said after the Rockies’ final exhibition game, a 6-3 win over Creston. “[To make the playoffs, we need] what we saw tonight, everyone playing their positions, everyone going hard, and everyone finishing their checks.”
Ward had yet to finalize a roster by press deadline, and wasn’t completely sure what the top line would look like, although he hinted that there will probably be a few veterans who will be taking those top line minutes.
He said that from what he’s seen so far from training camp and three exhibition games, while the team will need to work on its consistency in the coming weeks, he was encouraged by just how many players showed an earnest desire to be here, in Invermere, and that he feels great about his team moving into a new season.
“Obviously we want to win more than last year, and we’re a lot hungrier after taking the hits last year and rebuilding,” Ward said. “We want to be successful, we want to be a competitive team that’s tough to play against every single night and we know that with our program, and with our guys work ethic, we’re going to develop and we’re going to win hockey games.”