Like a typical election period, the start of the hockey season is full of promise and hope.
The main difference is that for the players of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League’s Vancouver Northeast Chiefs, there’s no script.
A lot of new faces are looking to take the premier midget circuit by storm, while a handful of veterans have taken the torch from the graduating group of last season, shouldering a leadership role.
Add in a new face at coach, and you have an ideal situation where expectations are untethered to past efforts and expectations.
Chiefs coach Jim Camazzola noted that the learning curve for players making the leap to major midget, from the bantam and minor midget ranks, is fairly steep, but it’s all part of a maturing process as they continue to chase ‘the dream.’
“This is a young group and we have just four returnees from last season,” said Camazzola, who coached the program’s minor midget team a year ago. “It’s usually the second year where you get (the success), so it’s all about learning and a process.”
Building a team often requires patience and an ability to adjust the plan as players progress. Camazzola said at this stage, everyone is still composing chemistry experiments with new linemates and pairings.
“The biggest challenge for the players right now is understanding what the coaching staff wants,” he said. “I believe in a structured game. … If you run all around you get burned pretty easily. That kind of showed in the first game.”
The Chiefs, who have dibs on players from east Burnaby, New West, the Tri-Cities, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, have typically been a serious challenger every second season. If the cycle runs true to form again, this year will feature its share of hard knocks but still see them in the playoff picture come February.
Last year, the Chiefs put on quite a run under coach Jeff Urekar, finishing third overall with a 25-8-5-2 record, just three points back of regular season champion Fraser Valley. Their run ended in the playoff semifinals.
Among the leaders last year, Maple Ridge’s James Bohn and Logan Kurki, Port Moody’s Ryan Tattle and Burnaby’s Dante Ballarin have all made the junior A jump to the Coquitlam Express, while the Trail Smoke Eaters signed Burnaby natives Jackson Murphy-Johnson and netminder Logan Turness. PoCo’s Quinton Hill and Maple Ridge’s Cody Hough have gone further east, signing with the Weyburn Red Wings and Humboldt Broncos, respectively, in Saskatchewan.
With a rookie-heavy lineup this time around, many would suggest that this season will have more moral victories than tangible ones. Camazzola understands that line of thinking, but feels the talent and makeup of his squad could surprise.
“We might be middle-of-the-pack, but you never know,” he said. “My goal is primarily to just be competitive. I want the kids to put the effort in, that if we win – great. But if you’re pushing and in the game right to the end, that’s something we can work with.”