The Powell River Kings weren't leaving anything to chance when they named their leadership group for the 2018-19 British Columbia Hockey League campaign.
Whistler defenceman Ben Raffler, the lone 20-year-old on the Jr. 'A' squad's blueline, is taking on the role of alternate captain, a task he's eager to step into this season.
"I'm really embracing it this year," he said. "That's a pretty big step for me. I was really looking forward to that this year—it was a big goal of mine.
"It's always expected for the older guys to take on those roles, so I was really looking forward to it this season."
Raffler, who is entering his fourth season with the Kings, will look to head up the defensive corps by any means necessary.
"Being a great example at the rink, whether that's for practice or games (is important). You want to be that rock in the dressing room. Younger guys can lean on you, ask you questions," he said. "Even on the bench, you just want to be really open."
Raffler, who is starting off the season paired with 17-year-old Jayden Lee of North Vancouver, is one of three returnees on the blueline and one of over a dozen Kings who were with the team in 2017-18, when they made it to the league semifinal.
"We're an older group," he said. "We have a pretty old team in general, so we should do pretty well with the deep squad that we have. On the blueline, especially, we've got to set good examples for the younger guys and show them how it's done in the league."
After a tough five-game loss to the Prince George Spruce Kings, where travel days were 16-hour sojourns, Raffler hopes to help the Kings back to another deep playoff run, hearkening back to the 2008-12 editions of the team that made the league finals for four consecutive years.
"It was quite the playoff grind, but I know we're looking to get to that same spot again—or even further," he said. "We want to prove to ourselves that we weren't just a one-off year.
"We want to repeat that same success. The Island Division is looking strong so we know every night is going to be a battle, especially once it comes to playoffs, it's going to be a tough grind to get through the Island."
Raffler is settling in with new head coach Tyler Kuntz, who was most recently an assistant with the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants. He said there's been a different mindset around the team that will help it succeed.
"It's been a bit of a process getting all his systems learnt, but all the guys are really embracing it. It's looking like a super positive season and I think it's going to be great," he said. "I really agree with a lot of the systems so it should be a great year.
"There's a lot more structure. He has a plan for different parts of the game. He has different systems for the neutral zone and different systems for the (defensive) zone. He's part of that new generation of coaching, part of that newer, younger group of guys whereas our coach before had been here quite a while."
Raffler pondered forgoing his last year of junior hockey to start post-secondary education this year, but was excited for a chance to return and chase a title. He's also hoping to impress scouts and land a scholarship for next season.