The Langley Rivermen are going back to the future this season.
Their new home is, in fact, the former digs of a handful of incarnations of B.C. Hockey League teams, most recently the Langley Chiefs who ended up returning to Chilliwack.
The ’Men have moved from the Langley Events Centre to the George Preston Recreation Centre in order to make way for the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, who announced their relocation to Langley from Burnaby’s Pacific Coliseum in early May.
Formerly known as the Langley Civic Centre, the GPRC opened Nov. 8, 1973 and was built at a cost of $1,750,000.
The last team to use the GPRC was the Langley Knights junior B franchise which occupied the GPRC starting in September 2014, before packing their hockey bags for North Surrey.
Starting with their home (and season) opener Friday versus the Chilliwack Chiefs, the Rivermen will be going to battle in a more intimate setting in Brookswood.
Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said the size and the ambiance of the GPRC makes it tailor-made for the BCHL.
“We’re looking to get a good atmosphere in here, we want it to be nice and loud, and we love that the fans are right on top of you,” Henderson said. “It’s got great ice here, it’s a fast ice surface so the games are really intense and it’s really entertaining for the fans. All the changes here have been awesome. We’re stoked to get going, here.”
Henderson said fans are excited about the Rivermen’s move to the Brookswood rink.
“A lot of people have memories growing up here, playing here as well as watching games over the years,” Henderson said. “The atmosphere is the big thing. Once people come out and see the level of play, they’re going to be excited about it.”
The league has raised the bar. More players are choosing the college route and the BCHL is the “premier feeder” for players in Canada looking to get into the NCAA, Henderson said.
The Rivermen feel they have what it takes to make in impact this season.
The ’Men are coming off 2015/16 campaign that saw them place third in the BCHL’s Mainland Division with a 31-22-3-2 record.
They were subsequently bounced out of the first round of the playoffs by the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild in five highly competitive games.
Among the key returnees up front is Max Kaufman, who finished second in team scoring last season with 20 goals and 52 points.
Kaufman, 20, is gearing up to play NCAA Div. 1 hockey with the University of Vermont next season, so he wants to make his final year of junior A a memorable one.
“My purpose for coming out here before university was to further my development and that’s exactly what I want to do,” he said. “I’m one of the older guys on the team so I also want to be a leader and help all of the younger guys with their development, too.”
The Rivermen are a skilled team that also has the size to “grind out” wins, Kaufman said.
“There’s so much talent on this ice that, I think we can do whatever we want to do, we just need to play the way we want to play,” Kaufman noted.
Left winger Cooper Leitch will captain the Rivermen this season and embodies the team’s style of play – physical and hard-nosed.
Leitch, 20, stands 6’3” and “is a big-bodied power forward who can chip in offensively but plays a physical style of game,” Henderson noted.
The new captain likes the look of the team.
“Bobby runs a pretty hard team so there’s going to be a lot of contact, there’s some big guys on our team, get pucks deep, keep it simple,” Leitch said. “We’ve got some big bodies out there but guys are moving pretty quick. The puck’s flying around so it’s good to see.”
The goal, always, is to win the RBC Cup national championship Leitch said.
“That’s always the goal, and hope we get there.”
Henderson noted North Vancouver forward Angus Crookshank, an affiliate with the ’Men last year, who is committed to New Hampshire in 2018/19.
“He’s been real good early on and he’s going to be a major contributor to our offence,” Henderson said.
On the back end, recruits Francis Boie, McKay Flanagan, and Reid Yochim have impressed during the pre-season.
As well, Langley players Brendan Budy and Sean Gulka look as though they’ll stick as 16 year olds.
Henderson said the Rivermen owe it to the fans and sponsors to put in an honest effort every game: “We just want to battle and fight, and show that pride. We care about the community; we care about our fans and we want that to reflect in our style of play.”
The Rivermen are:
Forwards Brendan Budy – Langley; Angus Crookshank – Burnaby; Max Kaufman – Pittsford NY; Cooper Leitch – London, Ont.; Ryan Barrow – Banff, Alta.; Satchel Clendenin Bethseda Md; Sean Gulka – Langley; Zac Masson – Newmarket Ont.; Gavin Payne – Minnetonkal, Minn.; Andrew Dumaresque – Hammonds Plains N.S.; Trevor Ayre – Surrey; Eric Butte – Belmont, Md.; Nic Ponak – Abbotsford; Alex McDonald – Windsor Junction N.S.; Levi Hulston – Calgary Alta.; David Laurin (IR) – Langley; and Sean Olson (IR) – Delta.
Defencemen Reid Yochim –Thorold, Ont.; Frank Boie – Montreal, Que.; Alec Capstick – Langley; Cam Ginnetti – Langley; John Schuldt – Minnetonka, Minn.; Zack Blueller – Vancouver; and McKay Flanagan – Ridgefield, Conn.
Goaltenders Bo Didur –Vancouver and Nick Trenciansky – Cloverdale.