The Aldergrove Kodiaks will be defending the Pacific Junior Hockey League title this season.
But make no mistake, last year is in the rear-view.
Many of the top contributors from last yearâ€™s championship squad have graduated to a new level.
That means there will be many new faces â€“ as in 11 rookies listed on the Kodiaksâ€™ roster â€“ going into the 2014/15 campaign.
Gone from last yearâ€™s team are forward Adam Callegari, goaltender Jordan Liem, and defenceman Robby Jang, all with Simon Fraser Universityâ€™s varsity team; rearguards Josh Cronin and Jeremy Lagler, who are part of the B.C. Hockey Leagueâ€™s Coquitlam Express; winger Stephen Ryan, who led the league in scoring last year, and is now a member of the Trail Smoke Eaters; forward Spencer Unger, who is with the BCHLâ€™s Surrey Eagles; forward Jonathan Philley and goaltender Tate Sproxton, who have joined the Dryden (Ontario) Ice Dogs; and defenceman Kodi Schwarz, who is with the Alberta Junior Hockey Leagueâ€™s Olds Grizzlys.
Despite losing so many key contributors, Kodiaks general manager/associate coach Rick Harkins believes Aldergrove will have another competitive team this season.
â€œWe are going to be younger and very quick,â€ Harkins said, â€œand because we are an organization known for development and moving kids up, some of the better kids in the province want to come and play with us. We have some pretty good, young talent and I feel weâ€™ll be competitive again.â€
In March, the Kodiaks won the PJHL final series by downing the powerhouse Richmond Sockeyes, in seven games. The Kodiaks had trailed the best-of-seven series three games to one.
During the regular season, the Sockeyes led the Tom Shaw Conference and the entire league with a 34-5-3-2 record.
The playoff title added to an excellent season for the Kodiaks, who finished on top of the Harold Brittain Conference with a 34-6-2-2 regular season record.
Harkins said, while team accomplishments are nice, the focus has alway been about development.
â€œWe measure our success on how many kids we move on, not whether we win the [PJHL] banner again,â€ Harkins said. â€œThatâ€™s a bonus.â€
The Kodiaks home, and season, opener is tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 10) when they host the Abbotsford Pilots at Aldergrove Arena.
Game time is 7:15 p.m.
The Kodiaks roster may not be set in stone for the entire season. The team will make changes if need be.
â€œWeâ€™ll see what holes we need to fill early in the season,â€ Harkins said. â€œWeâ€™ll see what we have and see where we need to go. We hope to be right in mix in our division, and weâ€™ll make adjustments at Christmas if need be.â€
The Kodiaks will have a new cross-town rival in the form of the Langley Knights, who will debut at the George Preston Recreation Centre after relocating from North Delta.
â€œItâ€™s a great move for the league because now weâ€™ve got abbotsford, us, and Langley nice and close [to each other],â€ Harkins said. â€œItâ€™s a nice rivalry and good for the fans and the league in general.â€
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The Kodiaks will be led once again by a veteran coaching staff including Harkins, head coach Brad Rihela, associate coach Tavis Eaton, and assistant coach Kevin Persson.