The Junior B Squamish Wolfpack will play in two exhibition games against the Grandview Steelers this weekend, the first at home on Saturday night and the second at Grandview's home arena on Sunday.
The Wolfpack are entering their third season in the Tom Shaw conference of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League, one of three junior B rated leagues in B.C. They have yet to reach the playoffs - finishing in the top four of their conference - after placing fifth out of five teams the past two seasons.
There is some local content on the roster this year with forward Matthew Bonin making the cut after training camp. Bonin turns 17 on Sunday.
The first game of the double header takes place at Brennan Park community centre arena at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28. Game two is at Burnaby Winter Club, Grandview's home ice, with the puck dropping at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The league officially gets underway on Sept. 7, although the Wolfpack's first regular game isn't until Saturday, Sept. 11 - a home game against the always competitive (and 2008 B.C. and Canadian champions) Richmond Sockeyes.
According to coach Matt Samson, there's been a lot of turnover this year and trades for top scorers could end up backfiring if those players get picked up by Junior A teams.
"We're looking at a lot of new faces this year," he said. "As of now, from our team last year we're moving seven or maybe eight guys to Junior A, and two players onto college teams - so from a development standpoint, looking at the program and hopefully attracting kids, that's good for us. But at the same time we'll be facing challenges."
Heading into the season the Wolfpack bartered for the North Delta Devils' Trevor Kang, their top scorer last year, and Mason Malowich, who Samson believes could be a top five scorer in the league this year. Both are also Junior A prospects and may end up moving up before the season gets underway.
Samson says it's going to be a few weeks before the roster is finalized. He says it's likely the team will pick up players from the Junior A as well. In the meantime the team will give rookies a look during their exhibition games this weekend, as well as over a road trip to the Interior to play four exhibition games against teams from the Junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
Bonin is the only player from Whistler on this year's team. Samson says he has been watching Bonin for the past few seasons and thought he deserved to make a major midget team he tried out for last season.
"He's a really fast, creative player and he's put up big numbers in Whistler and on the spring teams he's been on - and in the Challenge Cup," said Samson. "This will be a step up for him, playing Junior B, and we want to see if he can be an offensive force for us. With the opportunity I think he's going to be, it will be a matter of how soon he adjusts to the speed and level of play."
From Squamish, Wolfpack captain Nelson Hunter retired last season but Samson says there is a chance he could return. Other Squamish players are Jacob Dickau and Johan Peterson. Samson is looking at local goalies as well.
While the goal of making the playoffs may seem far-fetched, Samson says the league is younger this year and there has been a lot of turnover on other teams.
"We always set a goal of making the playoffs, and in our first year that was unrealistic" he said. "Last year I thought we could have done it, but we had a few stumbling blocks like injuries to key players and a slow start to the year. This year we're focused on getting a group together earlier and getting off to a strong start so the players are comfortable with our systems and we can get the power play going.
"With hard work, there's no reason we couldn't finish in the top three in the conference this year."
The Wolfpack plays its home games at Brennan Park, but will host at least two games in Whistler. The Whistler Games are scheduled for Monday, Oct. 11 and Friday Oct. 22 at Meadow Park Sports Centre, facing off against Port Moody and Grandview respectively.
For more information visit www.squamishwolfpack.com.