Oceanside Generals president Beverly Yelland was asked what the team’s goals were for next season in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL).
“A few more wins,” she said.
The Generals sputtered to a total of 13 wins in 48 games last season. There are nine teams in the VIJHL and eight make the playoffs. The Generals did not.
Yelland still found reasons for optimism in a conversation with The NEWS last week ahead of the team’s spring (rookie) camp May 6-8 at Oceanside Place in Parksville.
She pointed to some bright spots on the ice, players likely to be back next season, including the emergence of goaltender Matt Henwood, who had a respectable 8-7 win-loss record as a 16 year-old. Henwood, from Comox, turned 17 in December of last year, but in hockey language, 2015-16 was his 16-year-old season.
There was also the development of Qualicum Beach’s Landon Dziadyk, who won’t turn 17 until May of this year. Dziadyk had five goals and seven assists as a rookie last season.
“He has a lot of talent and over the season he matured both physically and in his approach to the game,” said Yelland.
Sebastian Powsey, a 20 year-old from Cumberland, could play an important role this upcoming season. He had 18 points and 80 penalty minutes in 2015-16.
“He has had a real influence on our team,” said Yelland. “He is very responsible in the (dressing) room, working with the younger guys.”
Off the ice, Yelland seems to be keeping a brave face despite some real setbacks.
The team will be led next season by its ninth head coach in the past three years. That’s right, ninth.
“Yeah, that’s nuts,” said Yelland. Brad Knight will not return as head coach after that 13-win season due to career and family commitments, said Yelland.
Behind the bench for the upcoming season will be Gerry Bickerton, an assistant to Knight last season. Bickerton played his entire minor hockey career in Nanaimo. Joining Bickerton behind the bench as assistants will be his brother Scott Bickerton and Chris Lennox, whose main responsibility will be with the defence corps.
Providing some continuity in hockey operations, general manager Rob Gaudrault of Port Alberni returns for another season. Gaudrault has been a real soldier for the club, taking on a number of positions during these last four or five tumultuous years.
The turnover with the Generals does not stop in the hockey operations department. The non-profit society that owns the team has learned it will not get a provincial gaming grant ($15,000) for the upcoming season. Yelland also said Save-On-Foods has decided to concentrate its sponsorship on youth sports and will not be giving the Generals $20,000 to be the team’s title sponsor like it has in many seasons past.
Junior B teams like the Generals need $135,000-$150,000 to operate for a season and Yelland said the club will make it through the upcoming season partly because this is not a year where it has to make big-ticket equipment purchases.
Despite some back-to-back-to-back losing seasons, Yelland said she is grateful for the fan support the team has received. She said they average about 200 paying customers at Oceanside Place for home games.
“We are really fortunate to be really supported by our fans,” she said, adding another challenge has been the Gens’ relationship with Oceanside Minor Hockey. “Our relationship has been rocky.”
While the top teams in the league have up to eight 20 year olds, Yelland said the Generals focus more on development, which includes graduating players to the B.C. Junior Hockey League.
“We have more 17-18 year olds than anyone else in the league,” she said. “Our win average isn’t all that great, but if you look at the players we move up to junior A… it depends what a parent is looking for.”
• The 100 Mile House Wranglers of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League won the Cyclone Taylor Cup on Sunday and will represent B.C. at the Western Canada Junior B championships, the Keystone Cup, in Regina this coming weekend. The Wranglers defeated the host Victoria Cougars 5-4 in the final of the Cyclone Taylor Cup on Sunday in Esquimalt. The Cougars won the VIJHL title this season, defeating the Campbell River Storm in six games in the final.