To borrow from the soulful shanty Feeling Good, "It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life-"
Those lyrics pretty much sum up the Langley Rivermen's attitude going into the 2012/13 B.C. Hockey League campaign.
The junior A team's players, coaches, and staff are trying to put their past behind them. Considering how much the Rivermen struggled last season, a fresh start is mandatory.
Langley finished with a 19-35-1-5 record, dropped to seventh in the eightteam Mainland Division, and were on the outside looking in once the playoffs rolled around.
The 'Men vow to be better this year, and might just be thanks in part to the return of their top goalscorer Mario Puskarich.
Puskarich led the Rivermen with 31 goals in 2011/12.
The team has a new bench boss and general manager in Bobby Henderson, promoted from associate head coach following the departure of Steve O'Rourke at the end of last season.
The Rivermen experienced growing pains in 2011/12, a natural bi-product of dressing 17 players who had never played at the junior A level before.
"That's an uphill battle right from the start," Henderson said. "The young guys that we took to develop all proved over the course of [last] season, that they will look like they'll be impact players this year."
This season's team has nine returnees, including three key veterans: Puskarich, defenceman Thomas Nitsche (named captain during the off-season) and goaltender James Barr, who made 29 starts for the 'Men last year.
"Those guys are big-time players for us," Henderson said. "James Barr, we're looking for him to carry the load in net for this year."
Promising defenceman Bo Pellah is also back after an impressive rookie season.
"He had 25 points as a 16-year-old, which is pretty impressive," Henderson said.
A strong start would of course be nice, but Henderson is looking at the season as a whole.
"It's tough keeping the guys on the same page if you get out of the gates slow," he said. "It's easy to start cutting corners and taking short cuts but we're pretty confident in our leadership group here, not only in the guys we have returning but the guys we've added."
Spearheading this leadership group is Nitsche, who says the bar has been raised.
"We expect nothing less than to go deep into the playoffs and obviously our ultimate goal is to win the RBC Cup this year," Nitsche said. "We're going to work our very hardest to achieve that."
Nitsche was very honest when speaking about last year's struggles.
"I think our room was a little divided," he said. "We had some guys that really wanted to be there and some guys that weren't all there."
This year, all the players are "on the same page," in Nitsche's opinion. "We all want the same thing and that will definitely translate into more wins this year."
The Rivermen have a number of newcomers in their lineup. Nitsche said so far, the rookies have adjusted well to the BCHL pace, and are starting to find their voices in the dressing room.
"I'd say every single one of our rookies is adjusting," Nitsche said. "A lot of them are still shy and haven't come out of their shell yet, but as the season goes along, we're all going to bond very well."
There are new players who Henderson believes could have an impact.
Jakob Reichert, a 6'4" 230-pound forward and Langley native, was acquired from the Merritt Centennials in a threeplayer deal that saw Austin Plevy and Sebastien Pare go the other way.
Reichert has played two seasons in the B.C. Hockey League, recording 21 goals and 30 assists for 51 points to go along with 165 penalty minutes.
"He's been in the league, he's had a couple years junior experience, he's a big, strong, physical presence, and- he's a leader," Henderson said.
Another new face is 1993-born Mitch McLain, who put up big numbers for Brainerd High in U.S. High School (USHS) last season.
McLain recorded 35 goals and 29 assists in 25 games.
"Mitch is a guy who's never played junior hockey before, that's jumped right into our top six," Henderson said.
McLain had a single assist in the Rivermen's first three games of the season. Henderson says the 6'1" 190pound forward is capable of lighting the lamp on a consistent basis.
"Over the weekend he didn't have the offensive production he would have liked but he certainly had the chances," Henderson remarked, prior to this past Friday's road game against the Coquitlam Express.
"Every time he's on the ice, he makes something happen. He's the type of kid who has an effect on the game whether he's putting up points or not, just with his compete level. He's a physical player, [and] he's one of those guys who's a natural leader. He's a rookie but he certainly doesn't play like one."
McLain said the 'Men set a simple goal at the start of the season.
"We want to play hard all three periods, and the end goal, we want to make it to the RBC Cup," he said.
On an individual level, McLain aims to contribute any way he can.
"I want to be a team guy that helps the team," he said. "I want to get a [NCAA] Division 1 scholarship out of this year and work really hard. But the team comes first in my book, so whatever I can do to help the team."
All of the Rivermen players, McLain included, are expected to take the body every chance they get, which will make the team miserable to play against. This comes directly from the textbook of the Harvey Smyl school of hockey. Henderson is a protegÃ© of Smyl, who coached the Chiefs in Langley before they returned to Chilliwack last season. Under Smyl's tutelage, Henderson manned the Chilliwack Chiefs' blueline from 1998 to 2003, and played with a bucketfull of sandpaper.
Henderson's style is a blueprint for the current crop of 'Men.
"I think the biggest thing that Harvey does is he gets guys to compete for him. That's the No. 1 area that we felt we needed to improve, was our compete level," Henderson said. "In a way, our team will be similar to his team in that regard in that we want to play an up-tempo, fast, hard brand of hockey. It's a long season and if we're continually on the body early in the year, it'll only play in our favour later on."
@ Copyright 2013