By Jon Zacks
In October of 2008, the Senior Flyers were awarded the hosting rights for the 2010 Allan Cup.
Since then, the team, the city, and the organizing committee has been working, preparing, and dreaming, about arguably the biggest event ever to come to the Energetic City.
The waiting is over.
On Monday, April 19th, Canada’s best senior hockey teams will kick off competition, as they battle to become amateur champions of the country.
The tournament will include the defending champions, with the Bentley Generals vying to become the first team since the Warroad Lakers (1994, 95, 96) to repeat as Allan Cup champions. Also in contention, is last year’s runner-up, with the South East Prairie Thunder eager to avenge a double-overtime loss in the 2009 final. Other teams include the three-time champion Powell River Regals, Ontario’s Dundas Real McCoys, and Newfoundland’s Clarenville Caribous.
And then, of course, there is the host Fort St. John Flyers. The Flyers are the three-time defending B.C. ‘AAA’ champions (2007, 08, 09), but each season, have had their Allan Cup ambitions dashed by the Bentley Generals in the McKenzie Cup. This time around, the Flyers earned an automatic entry to the tournament, as host team. But, there is no question that the Flyers have their sights set on the championship.
Since their loss to Bentley in the 2009 McKenzie Cup, the Flyers have been tweaking their team, adding players, and changing strategies, as they attempt to overcome the Generals, and the rest of the country. In 2009, the Flyers felt that they had matched-up well with Bentley, but had come up short on specials teams. As a result, the team has added some offensively-minded players to beef up the powerplay, as well as penalty kill specialists and defensive depth, two more things that were lacking in the past.
The Flyers are now expecting to ice a new-look top line that includes plenty of professional experience. Former NHLer Kimbi Daniels will likely centre the number-one unit, straddled by Dawson Creek native Chris Stevens (BCHL, WHL, ECHL) and Fort St. John product Rod Stevens (WHL, AHL, 10+ years Europe). “They’re really offensively minded, and smart defensively” says Coach Adam Brash of the line, adding “they’ve all played a lot of good hockey.” There shouldn’t be much of a drop-off with the second line, with Tyler Brough to centre the Calgary-based pair of Ryan Carter and Ryan Manitowich. While Carter and Brough have been Flyers for a few seasons, Manitowich has joined the Flyers this season, after proving to be one of Bentley’s most important players in its defeat of Fort St. John in 2009.
After that, there is a legion of forwards vying for the remaining six spots. Long-time flyers such as Paul Wiens and Ian Munro will be hoping to find spots, alongside newcomers including Blaine Bablitz and Evan Boire. For Coach Adam Brash, the plan is to try to find entire lines that have chemistry, and sub them in and out of the lineup, depending on the opponent. “I think that’s the way you have to do it, give or take three or four guys here and there.” He points to the established line of David Alexander, Todd Alexander, and Nathan Waberski as a line that could be an effective third line. As well, the young line of Adam Horst, Jeff Fast, and Jeff Shipton could find its way into the frey as a unit. “It’s just fitting the line to the opponent” Brash says, suggesting the Alexander line would be a better combo to face the bigger Bentley Generals. “It’s strategic” Brash says, “we also need penalty killers and we need powerplay guys.” But after struggling with depth in 2009, Brash will have plenty of tough decisions to make, from a list of forwards also including Adam Loncan, Dustin Kersey, Clayton Bahm, Matt Shuya, and Mike Hofstrand, as well as utility players Luke Middleton and Aaron Schepers.
After struggling with injuries in the 2009 McKenzie Cup, the Flyers have added more depth, as well as some slick skaters and puck moving D-men. Headlining the list is former Spirit River Ranger Donny Lloyd, who jumped at a chance to join the Flyers this year, and compete for an Allan Cup. Another former Kootenay Ice, Gerard Dicaire, has rejoined the team, after sitting out the 2008/09 season. Dicaire and Lloyd seem likely to play as a pairing, while Kip Noble will be joined by former Powell River teammate Andrew Derton, making a pairing with plenty of offensive punch. Rounding out the defensive corps are Tyler Loney, Bryan Lewis, Arlo Hadland, and Mike Shipton, with other forwards who can drop back should the need arise.
With Chad Vizzutti back in Powell River, the Flyers this year added Clayton Pool, who has looked very impressive in his exhibition games so far, having yet to lose a game for Fort St. John. Coach Brash says Pool and Troy Hunt will likely both get a shot in the round robin, and after that, the team may well ride the hot hand. “Game three is an elimination game, so we want to go with the goalie that the guys are confident with, and playing well.” As well, the Flyers have added Whitehorse’s Cory McEachran, himself a two-time Allan Cup MVP (2007, Lloydminster Border Kings – 2005, Thunder Bay Bombers).
The Flyers have also added depth to their coaching ranks, with Fort St. John native Mike Vandekamp set to join Adam Brash behind the bench. Vandekamp has head coaching experience in the BCHL and WHL, and currently works as the bench boss for the AJHL’s Grande Prairie Storm. “[Vandekamp] brings experience and knowledge, of course” Brash says. “He’s in to fine-tune it, and add a new voice and a new energy. A lot of the guys have played for Vandy in the past, and respect him as a coach” adding “it’s really nice to have some help on the bench.” But, Brash also stresses that he Vandekamp are on the same page as far as strategies and systems go. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about systems … we’re talking apples and apples.”
And so it begins.
The Flyers will get an abrupt start to the tournament, as they face-off against their perennial rivals from Bentley on opening day. “We’re excited to play Bentley first” Brash says. “What better draw than to play the Allan Cup champions first, and set the bar early.” He says his team is ready for the tournament, and confident going in. “We’ve been talking about it lots, and we know what it’s going to take” Brash insists. “There’s probably some nerves in that dressing room as well, but [the coaching staff] is going to have to try to calm them. I’ve been telling the guys, ‘It’s going to be an emotional roller coaster’, and there’s going to be high points, and there’s going to be low points, and I think the team that keeps composure and stays the course throughout the whole tournament could be the team that wins it.”
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