The Columbia Valley Rockies are shaping up to be a tough and tenacious team for the 2013-2014 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) season.
After a full week of training camp and a couple of exhibition games played, Rockies general manager Ross Bidinger says the team is looking better across the board.
“We’re stronger on defence, we’ve got more young talent, and we’re going to stay as a physical team, with players that finish their checks,” he said. “All the guys we end up releasing will end up playing somewhere else.”
After starting with 30 players, about 25 remain in the camp for this week’s schedule of exhibition games. The focus will be on determining which high-school age players will stick with the club.
The Rockies’ new affiliation with the Chilliwack Chiefs Junior A hockey team has allowed them to tap into some talent, but a solid summer of scouting from Bidinger and the Dubielewicz brothers — Wade, Scott and Kirk — has allowed the team to cast a wide net for potential Junior A talent to bring in from around B.C. and Alberta.
The team is showing continued interest in landing a few Junior A players in particular. When the Valley Echo spoke with Bidinger on Thursday, August 29th, Scott Dubielewicz was scouting in Okotoks, Alberta, for a player the Rockies first became interested in during their spring camp.
The same coaching and front office crew is continuing to helm the team this year. Wade Dubielewicz is the head coach, with the other Dubielewicz brothers taking on assistant coaching roles, and Bidinger assuming more of a front office role.
Also being pursued are a few goaltending prospects, one of whom played in the Salmon Arm Silverbacks camp this year.
At this point, there are about 10 returning players from last year, said Bidinger, but no one will be able to count on their seniority.
“We’re looking to see how players are responding to different things we throw at them, whether they’ll play our system,” said Bidinger.
For the team’s first exhibition game on Saturday night (August 31st) in Creston, the team dressed all rookies and lost by a score of 9 – 1. On Sunday night (September 1st) in Fernie, playing with a mixed cast of rookies and veterans, the team eked out a 2 – 1 win. Bidinger emphasized the scores mean little at this point, as the focus is on trying out players in different roles.
The Rockies earned a playoff berth last season with 48 points, posting a record of 21 wins, 25 losses, no ties, and six overtime losses. That was a huge improvement from the 2011-2012 season, when the team had just three wins and 49 losses.
The final roster will be determined in part by a KIJHL rule that limits each team to a maximum of five 20-year-old players.
This week, the Rockies are playing the following exhibition matches: at home against Golden (Tuesday, September 3rd), in Kimberley (Wednesday, September 4th), at home against Creston (Thursday, September 5th), against Sicamous in Golden (Friday, September 6th), and at home against Kimberley (Saturday, September 7th).