With a new head coach and just three returning players, expectations for the Valley West Hawks will remain the same – to finish near the top of the BC Hockey Major Midget League (MML).
“We have speed, great goaltending and depth at the back end,” said Jessie Leung, who takes over as head coach of the Hawks after spending the past three seasons with the team as an assistant coach.
“I expect us to be near the top.”
The Hawks draw elite 15-17 year-olds from the Surrey, Cloverdale, Semiahmoo and Langley Minor Hockey Associations and will play a 40-game season in the MML.
Last season, their 27-11-2 (won-lost-tied) record set a club record for wins, and matched previous bests with 56 points and a third place finish. They reached the semifinal round of the playoffs for just the second time, losing a best-of-three series in Kelowna to the Okanagan Rockets in three games.
Winning is nice, but moving players to the next level is what the Hawks strike for. And Valley West also excelled in that area.
Matt Bradley of Surrey led the Hawks in goal scoring last season with 39 tallies in 37 games played, and this season finds himself on a Major Junior team.
“He lit it up last year, and stepped it up in Medicine Hat (Tigers) and cracked their top line,” said Leung. “And our captain last year, Paul Savage (of Surrey), is with the Yorkton Terriers (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League), and Mitch Newsome (Surrey) is now with the Penticton Vees (BC Hockey League).”
White Rock forwards Matt Barberis and Ty Westgard have made the jump from the Hawks to the BC Hockey League’s Surrey Eagles, and White Rock defenceman Devante Stephens is still in the preseason camp of the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.
Leung takes over a team looking top move another large group of players into the junior ranks.
The three returnees are forward Trevor Ayre and defenceman Shakeel Ebrahim of Surrey, and forward Luke Gingras of Langley.
Gingras came back to us from the Saskatoon Blades, which wasn’t expected,” said Leung. “But he will be our captain this season. We will lean on him for leadership.”
Gingras, 16, missed just four contests last season and contributed 14 goals and 23 points.
Ebrahim, 17, will be one of just three 17 year-olds on the team. Last season, he netted two goals and 15 points while playing in 29 of the 40 regular season games.
Ayre was one of seven Hawks to play in all 40 regular season games a year ago, scoring five times and collecting 18 points.
Defencemen Cole McEwan and Spencer Berry had a small taste of the MML last season, and have cracked the roster of this season’s team.
“We brought them to the Mac’s (tournament in Calgary) last season, and they didn’t look out of place.”
Valley West begins the season in Prince George, playing twice against the Cariboo Cougars Saturday night and Sunday morning in a rematch of last year’s best-of-three quarterfinal series, won by the Hawks in two games.
“I like it,” said Leung of the season-opening road trip. “We get away and get to do some team-building, there will be some bonding both on the bus and in the hotel.”