Despite finishing with a losing record, the Squamish Wolf Pack went out on a high note with a 5-4 win over the Mission Icebreakers on Sunday.
As a new franchise in the league the Wolf Pack had hoped to finish in the top four of five teams in their PIJHL (Pacific International Junior Hockey League) conference and make the playoffs, but by mid-season it became clear that their conference was just too strong - even if they could have reasonably finished second in the other conference where they had a winning record.
The trades started in January, with the Wolf Pack's older players getting traded to other teams where they would have a chance to be in the playoffs and contend for a provincial championship - playing in front of scouts that could move them up to Jr. A, or find them a scholarship with a U.S. college team.
The trades will also make the Wolf Pack stronger in the long run. Younger players got a lot more ice time and experience in the final weeks of the season, new players were activated that had an immediate impact, they found solid goaltenders with starting potential, and other teams still owe them future considerations when it comes time to fill the roster once again.
All of those strengths came to bear in the team's final game against the Mission Icebreakers.
Mission scored first just over seven minutes in, but the Wolf Pack were on the board again seven minutes later. Squamish went up one goal early in the second, then found themselves behind again 3-2 when Mission added two goals.
The third period started badly with Mission on the board again early to go up 4-2. But the Wolf Pack never gave up and scored three goals, including a powerplay goal, to finish the game 5-4.
Although an early exit wasn't part of the plan, coach and manager Matt Samson will use the downtime to scout, recruit and organize camps. As a new franchise Samson had a limited amount of time to get ready for last season, but this year will start by hosting recruiting camps as early as May. He estimates that there could be 13 or 14 returning players from this year, and hopes that some of the "future consideration" players he traded for during the regular season will want to come to Squamish to play.
"We need a few goal scorers and a couple of defencemen," says Samson. "We also need to find our starting goalie." Two local goalies, Brett Miller and Corey Koop, played with the team at the end of the season and Samson expects both to try out next season.
"I think we're happy with how the season ended, I couldn't expect much more," he said. "We were competitive in most games. There were a few ugly ones, a couple of good wins, and a good overtime loss in Abbotsford. We also had a pretty good game up in Whistler against North Delta, which is a top team. We knew going in that it was going to be hard, but there's a lot to be proud of for a first-year team."
Samson wants his players to take a few months off, after which point they can take advantage of programs in the off-season to work on their skills. Samson will also be booking some time at the rink, and all players are being encouraged to do physical and fitness training as well. The first rookie camp could be as early as May.
More information will be posted online as it's available at www.squamishwolfpack.com.