With the White Rock Whalers having recently wrapped up their inaugural season in the Pacific Junior Hockey League, one might think the coaching staff would be taking a well-deserved break, perhaps putting their feet up for a few minutes after the long grind of the junior ‘B’ season.
That’s not quite how the offseason has started for Whalers’ bench boss Jason Rogers, however.
Far from it, in fact.
Just a few days removed from his squad’s final regular-season game – a Feb. 9 loss to the North Vancouver Wolfpack – Rogers was in Red Deer, Alta. scouting young players at the Canada Winter Games in an attempt to improve his club in time for its second season and beyond.
From there, he told Peace Arch News, members of the team’s front office will organize a scouting schedule and try to get out to as many games – at various levels – in the next month as they can, all while keeping tabs on the PJHL playoffs, which began earlier this month.
“It never really stops,” he said. “We’re prepared to put in the time – and we have to be – to get out there and improve our program and sell the program, and to identify players.
“We want to do it the right way, and the right way involves a lot of effort.”
Though busy with scouting and planning for next season, Rogers, who joined the Whalers from the Vancouver Thunderbirds midget AAA minor-hockey program, has found a least a few minutes to reflect on the season – both the positive and negative aspects.
Despite being an expansion team, the Whalers were competitive right out of the gate, and hovered just below the playoff bar throughout the first half of the season. A strong start after Christmas didn’t really last, however, and the team ended up playing out the string en route to a 14-28-0-2 record (win-loss-tie-overtime loss), which put them 10th in the 12-team league, 14 points shy of the league’s eighth and final playoff berth, which was nabbed by the Ridge Meadows Flames.
The end result was disappointing, Rogers said, but he was pleased with his squad’s effort, nonetheless.
“We set a goal as a group to make the playoffs. Early in January, with a good start after the break, we felt that we could make that push, but for numerous reasons – and by no means are they excuses – we came up a little short,” he said.
“But despite some of those results towards the end of the year, I thought we played well, competed hard and showed some improvements.”
Down the stretch, White Rock’s ability to climb toward a playoff position was hampered by injuries to key players –including goaltender Jonathan Holloway, and the team’s top two scorers, captain Matt Rogers and Calder Newson. As well, the Whalers were frequently without the services of 16-year-old defenceman Cam Newson, who on a handful of weekends was called up to play junior ‘A’ with the BC Hockey League’s Powell River Kings.
While playing without so many important contributors was tough, Rogers chooses now to look at it in a positive light.
“The reality was that it gave players the opportunity to play in different situations that maybe they didn’t get prior to that,” he said. “Maturity, experience – those types of things (were gained) in that last stretch of games.”
The coach himself gained plenty of experience, too, in his first year at the helm of a PJHL team.
“Being a couple years removed (from junior hockey)… I probably didn’t have as good of an understanding at first of how some teams manage rosters,” he explained.
“(Next time), I’d probably be a little more active in wanting to trade, things like that. So it was a learning experience, not so much from the coaching side of things, but when it came to roster management.
“But I’m always trying to improve and learn, and wearing the two hats (coach and general manager)… it was a real good year to learn. I enjoyed the experience.”
In the days following the Whalers’ final game, team owner Ronnie Paterson took to social media to express his feelings on the season, as well as thank the community for supporting the new team.
“Even tho we missed our playoff goal there were many moments both on and off the ice that made our inaugural season special,” he wrote. “A heartfelt thank you to the unwavering support from volunteers and corporate sponsors.”
Rogers had similar feelings regarding how the franchise was accepted by hockey fans on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
“The community has embraced us and been nothing but supportive,” he said.
Rogers said that though attendance figures are not meticulously recorded and compared throughout the league, he is certain White Rock would boast among the league’s top numbers.
“If I was a betting man, I’d guess we’re easily in the top three,” he said.
Next year, he hopes those same fans are back in Centennial Arena cheering on a playoff team.
When we look at next season, I see that five or six spot as not being unrealistic. I don’t want to say we can’t finish first, but the reality is that anything short of the making the playoffs next year would be a disappointment and I’d take personal ownership of that.”
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