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White Rock Whalers coach ‘welcomes the challenge’ of building new team

The White Rock Whalers’ pod is starting to form.

The Pacific Junior Hockey League’s newest team has had a head coach since late May when former Surrey Eagles assistant Jason Rogers was hired for the post, and now the roster has started to fill out, too.

Earlier this month, the team acquired Surrey native Erik Bocale, a defenceman, from the Kootenay Junior Hockey League’s Beaver Valley Nighthawks, and after a June 9-10 prospects camp, the expansion junior ‘B’ squad has identified four more players for the coming season, Rogers told Peace Arch News.

Rogers said announcements on those roster additions would come within the next few days, though one has already been made official – on Sunday, 16-year-old Semiahmoo Hockey product Cameron Newson was added to the fold.

Both players – as well as those yet-to-be-announced – have Rogers excited for the coming season, though he admits there are plenty of hurdles left to clear this summer before the puck can be dropped in the fall. For starters, because the Whalers – who are owned by South Surrey’s Ronnie Paterson – were not officially granted a franchise until the first week of May, they find themselves behind their competitors when it comes to recruiting and scouting prospective talent.

That, combined with the fact that the Whalers are starting with a blank roster, means Rogers has plenty of work to do.

“Identifying players for this yer, obviously we don’t have the same luxury that the other teams already in existence had – they held prospects camps dating all the way back to last year,” he explained.

“But it’s very exciting for me, and I welcome the challenge.”

Bocale, Rogers said, should bring some veteran leadership to the new team.

“He’s a local guy and he has quite a bit of experience, both in the (PJHL) and the Kootenays,” Rogers said. “”we’re excited to have him on board.”

Official announcements regarding the rest of the Whalers’ coaching staff are also expected soon, Rogers noted.

When the PJHL announced White Rock’s expansion team, Paterson told PAN he was motivated to form a team in order to keep local players closer to home.

And while the team’s earliest acquisitions, Bocale and Newson, both fit that bill, Rogers said he will cast a net as far as he can in order to put a competitive team on the ice.

Junior ‘B’ hockey – both locally and in other parts of the province – has in recent years started to shake its past reputation as a league based on toughness and fighting, and Rogers agreed, saying that old brand of hockey has become a thing of the past, and his team will be molded with speed and skill in mind.

“Skating is the name of the game in 2018,” he said.

“Team toughness can come in many forms – we certainly don’t want to be pushed around, especially in our own rink, but that doesn’t mean it’s about identifying bigger bodies. At this point, we need to find players who can skate and who have high hockey IQ.

“We want to be quick, we want to be structured and we want to be disciplined. I think those three things… will make it difficult for teams to play against us.”

Rogers said he anticipates having a mix of ages on his roster. PJHL teams can carry two 16 year old players – with Newson being one for White Rock – and the first-year coach said he hopes to entice players in their “bridge years,” meaning they are just aging out of midget or major-midget programs, but perhaps not yet ready to make the jump to junior ‘A’.

Fighting for those players in a Lower Mainland market that includes established, successful programs like the Richmond Sockeyes – Paterson’s old franchise – and the Abbotsford Pilots, however, can be difficult, Rogers admitted.

“There are some teams that have been around a long time, and… we’re all kind of fighting for the same players,” he said. “But we’re doing our best to get out there and network and identify players.”

Whether recruiting players or simply marketing the team to the community, Rogers said the team’s history in the city will be a benefit moving forward. The original Whalers played out of Centennial Arena from 1985-‘89, and won a provincial title in ‘88.

In the weeks since the new team was announced, a handful of original Whalers have expressed their support online, and even posted a few photos of the team from its mid-’80s run.

“I think when you put Ron Paterson’s stamp on something, it will draw a lot of attention, and when you have the history – brief but successful – you get a lot of talk and interest,” Rogers said.

“It’s exciting and we don’t want to lose sight of that history – we want to build on that relationship with the original franchise. There’s history there – including the banner that I think still hangs in Centennial Arena.”

Nick Greenizan

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