Andy Liboiron, reigning PJHL Coach of the Year, is back behind the Surrey Knights bench for the start of the 2023-24 junior season.
A new-look Knights team starts Thursday (Sept. 14, 7 p.m.) on home ice where they host Mission City Outlaws, followed by a Friday-nighter (Sept. 15) against Ridge Meadows Flames at Cam Neely Arena.
The team then plays in Aldergrove Wednesday, Sept. 20, followed by another home game at North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex Thursday, Sept. 21, against Abbotsford Pilots.
Liboiron is looking to guide the Knights back to the Pacific Junior Hockey League playoffs after the team made the post-season last February for the first time since moving from Langley to Surrey seven years previous.
Last season Surrey scored 5th place in Harold Brittain Conference standings with 12 wins in 45 games. In the playoffs, the Knights fell in a two-game Survivor Series battle with Chilliwack Jets.
“For development it’s important to play meaningful games,” Liboiron said after his team was eliminated, “and these two games were easily the most beneficial for our guys going into next year, because now they know what it’s all about.”
To start the 2022-23 PJHL season, Knights’ goals included making the playoffs with a team of mostly rookies and some raw talent. That mission was accomplished.
“We want to finish higher in the standings, top three in our division, so we avoid the Survivor Series, the wildcard series,” Liboiron said in February.
This season the Knights roster will include many familiar names and some new faces. Returning goaltender Mason Upton is the lone 2003-born player listed on surreyknights.ca, meaning a roster of mostly 19-and-under players competing in the U21 league.
Six Knights list Surrey as their home town, including forwards Nolan Foster, Bronson Sales, Kirit Sran and Parkor Sarai, and D-men Jovin Athwal and Aidan McFarlane.
This year the PJHL includes 14 teams with the addition of Port Coquitlam Trailblazers, new to the Tom Shaw Conference.
The league now has Junior A, Tier 2 status following a July vote by BC Hockey’s board of directors. The decision to apply for Junior A status came in the wake of the BCHL departing Hockey Canada to become an independent league, creating a void for higher-level junior hockey sanctioned by the national body in the province.