NANAIMO — As early September rains soothe parched Vancouver Island forests, it's easy to forget about suffocating smoky skies, forest fires and the brave souls who fought them.
What do the record breaking British Columbia fires have to do with the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League?
Well, they essentially solidified Buccaneers' head coach and general manager Curt Toneff's pick of team captain.
The Buccaneers graduated seven 20-year-olds, one of which being former captain Coleman Doney. Coach Toneff said he knew after having discussions with the veteran returners which players would be wearing letters on their jerseys, just not necessarily which letters.
Newly appointed captain Billy Walters missed the first two weeks of training camp while fighting fires in B.C. Toneff painted a picture of respect and admiration for the fourth year VIJHLer amongst his teammates. Walters, a Powell River product, traveled through the night after dousing flames to make the recent fitness testing, on four hours of sleep, and, in Toneff's words, “owned it.”
“He’s a guy that wants to wear that ‘C’ on his chest,” Toneff said. “He wants to lead by example, he’s a role model.”
Defenceman Dylan Hartl and winger Trey Watson were announced are alternate captains, while another letter could possibly be “up for grabs.”
The Buccaneers enter the season looking to create a new identity, having lost prolific scorers Mathieu Jallabert (SFU) and Jayden Schubert (ERC Germany 3) and Booker Chacalias (Victoria Cougars). After a 3-0 preseason, the Bucs are off to a 2-0 start following a season debuting victory over visiting Campbell River 3-1 and a 4-2 triumph last Saturday night in Parksville.
The Bucs hope to sink the visiting Kerry Park Islanders Thursday night (Sept. 13) at 7:15 p.m. at the Pirate Ship.
There are a handful of rookies peppered throughout a youthful Bucs' lineup, several of which should make significant impacts.
Goaltender Austin Dendl and forward Joshua Zary (BCMML North Island Silvertips) have all the hallmarks to be significant keys to success this season.
Riley Gannon, Dawson Wolff, Trey Boylan and Brendan Rogers are other rookies putting a positive stamp on the early season. Rearguard Evan Pattison will lessen the pain of losing longtime defenceman Clayton Peace (Cowichan Valley Capitals, BCHL).
Calgary forward products Tyson McLean and Tyler Nypower possess an intriguing blend of speed and grit — the latter developing chemistry on a line with Zary.
While it’s still early, the Bucs appear poised to flourish under second-year bench boss Toneff. His assistant coaches, Christian Brandt and Nolan Richardson, have a wealth of experience, and understand what these young players are experiencing.
Junior hockey is a big jump from minor hockey, but the talent cupboard has more than amply been restocked. New owner Clayton Robinson couldn’t have chosen a better year to get involved after assuming control from the distinguished duo of Phil and Brenda Levesque.
The Buccaneers look to challenge for a VIJHL title after bowing out in a heart-breaking seven-game series to the Saanich Braves last season. The Bucs may be young, but a tantalizing combination of speed, skill and size are sure to make Thursday night's at the Pirate Ship can't-miss entertainment.
While wildfires in the province have cooled down, the Buccaneers look to heat things up on the ice throughout the 2018-19 campaign.
— Larenzo Jensen is the new play-by-play voice of the Nanaimo Buccaneers. His articles on the Bucs' will appear throughout the season on NanaimoNewsNOW.
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