Thursday, 10 September 2015

Home Opener Preview vs. Merritt

The West Kelowna Warriors will open their 10th season in the Okanagan, and their 9th in West Kelowna as they tangle with the Merritt Centennials on Friday night at Royal Lepage Place.

The Warriors, are coming off a season which saw them finish 4th in the Interior Division on the last day of the campaign, before bowing out to the eventual Fred Page Cup and Western Canada Cup champion Penticton Vees.

This year’s edition of the Warriors features 9 returning players, plus 4 others acquired in off-season trades.

Among those additions are 20-year-old goaltender Daniel Mannella, coming off a season in the OJHL where he finished with a 2.08 GAA and a .927 Sv %.

West Kelowna also added 2-time AJHL Champion Paul Lovsin, BCHL veteran Garrett Forster, and defenseman Tyler Anderson in deals.

The Warriors recruited the remaining of their roster, including Jake Harrison from West Kelowna (AP last year), Connor Sodergren and Quin Foreman from Massachusetts, and Kyle Uy from the Greater Vancouver Canadians of the BCMML. West Kelowna also added a pair of Saskatchewan natives in Reed Gunville and Jake Tesarowski. Forbes Ploszaj is the other goaltender, from the Colorado Rampage U18 program.

Toughness and grit are two key elements to this years squad, with the ability to score goals sprinkled all throughout the lineup. Rylan Ferster will expect nothing less than being the hardest working team in the BCHL, or at the very least....tied for 1st. The Warriors were not afraid to drop the gloves in the pre-season, but don't expect that to carry over to games that count. If the players need to stick up for their teammates though, they definitely will have no problem doing that.

For those unfamiliar, the Warriors and Centennials both play in what many regard to be the toughest division in Junior Hockey. Last season, that claim was pretty much proven, as the Salmon Arm Silverbacks missed the playoffs by a single point. Their 65 points would have put them in 2nd in the Mainland Division, or 3rd on the Island.

Each team in this division is tough to play against on every single night. The teams that can remain within striking distance by January 10th, make the final 6 weeks very intense. Another reason to think it's the hardest division? The 6 Interior teams combined went 81-34-3-12 against the other two divisions last season.

Every teams goal is the same: Win the RBC Cup. Only 1 team is able to accomplish their goal in a season and it's a grind to get their. This Warriors team is going to be tough to play against, and they'll need to be in this division. If West Kelowna can get balanced scoring, plus have Jonathan Desbiens and Liam Blackburn build on impressive seasons last year, they're going to be dangerous offensively. If Daniel Mannella puts up numbers like he did in the OJHL, the Warriors will be in a great position to win hockey games night in and night out.

Health is maybe the biggest factor, and perhaps the Warriors are in for some good karma this year, as AP's ruled the roster last season, including 12 games started by an AP goaltender. While it was bizarre, the Warriors got good performances from those netminders, and Stephen Heslop stood on his head in the playoffs as well.

Whatever ends up happening this season, strap yourselves in and get ready for one crazy ride. Junior A Hockey is one of the most entertaining levels of hockey on the planet, and when Royal Lepage Place gets rocking, it's an amazing atmosphere. 


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