Valley West Hawks forward Justyn Gurney takes a tumble during a game last season. Gurney had five points in two weekend games.

Valley West Hawks forward Justyn Gurney takes a tumble during a game last season. Gurney had five points in two weekend games.

Valley West Hawks take aim at title defence

BC Major Midget League hockey team wins first two games of season last weekend.

Coming off the most successful season in team history, the BC Major Midget Hockey League’s Valley West Hawks’ first weekend couldn’t have gone much better.

But as defending league champions, head coach Jessie Leung is well aware of the target on his squad’s back, which is why – even after a pair of road wins to start the season – he wasn’t 100 per cent happy with how his team performed.

On Saturday in Lake Cowichan, the Hawks rode a red-hot power play to a 6-2 win over the South Island Royals, and Sunday, followed up with a 4-3 overtime win over the same team, this time in Victoria.

“It’s always good to start with two wins,” Leung said.

“Even though It wasn’t exactly the way we wanted to script it.”

By Leung’s count, his team only played “about 18 minutes” of good hockey Saturday, but were buoyed by a lethal power play that connected five times.

On Sunday, the team “wasn’t quite as sharp” and only scored once with the man-advantage, which led to the team having to squeak out a victory in overtime on a goal from Justyn Gurney, who recently returned to the MML squad after spending training camp with the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

“The power-play was the difference. We didn’t play our best and we still skated away with a 6-2 win,” said Leung of the season-opening tilt.

“But we know that, after the year we had, there are no easy games – we can’t take anybody by surprise,” he said,

“Everybody wants to take us down.”

Gurney was the offensive catalyst for Valley West in the two Island games, as was captain Kabir Gill and Jarret Raymond.

Gurney, a forward, scored twice and added three assists in the two games, while Gill – like Gurney, in his second year with the team – had one goal and four assists in the two wins.

Last year, the Hawks – made up of elite-level 15- to 17-year-olds from the Cloverdale, Surrey, Semiahmoo and North Delta minor hockey associations – were first in the league with a regular-season record of 33-6-1 (win-loss-tie), and also captured a BCMML playoff title, defeating the Cariboo Cougars in a best-of-three championship series.

The team advanced to the Pacific Region finals, where they eventually lost to Lloydminster.

This year’s team will be without two offensive stars from last year, as Luka Burzan and James Malm have moved on to the WHL, with the Moose Jaw Warriors and Vancouver Giants, respectively, but Leung is confident his new squad will again find success.

In addition to Gurney and Gill, returnees from last year include Bobby Russell – recently returned from the WHL’s Kootenay Ice – Mitchell Savage, Carson Franklin and goaltender Reece Klassen.

“You typically see a monumental jump from players in their second years, and it was nice to see some of our guys get some experience (in the WHL) – they’ll come in with a lot of confidence,” Leung said.

“It’s a different group of kids and a new day, but I’m really happy with our group and I believe we’ll be a high-end team in our league again this year.

“We’re very deep up front. We might not be able to turn to a single player to take over a game – guys like Burzan and Malm were two very special players – so everyone will have to pull their weight.”

The Hawks will play a pair of home games in the Lower Mainland this weekend – both at Richmond’s Olympic Oval against the visiting Thompson Blazers, who are 1-1 so far in the young season, having split a pair of games on opening weekend against the North Island Silvertips.

The two squads will face off Saturday at 3:15 p.m., followed by another game Sunday at the same time.

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