The Rebels have gone local: they've hired former Castlegar minor hockey product Steve Junker to be their new head coach and general manager. Junker is fresh off an 18-year pro hockey career that included a stint with the New York Islanders. He's spent the last 13 seasons playing in Germany, most recently with the Augsburg Panthers, and also was a part of the Spokane Chiefs' 1991 Memorial Cup-winning team.
I interviewed Rebels president Jim Craig this morning about the decision, and one of the things he considered very important was Junker's connection to the community. In a statement Junker says "I want to return home with my family and yet stay involved in hockey in my home town," and having once played for the Rebels he obviously understands what the team means to the people here. I'll have the full interview available in the next few days.
To me, the parallels to the Nelson Leafs really stand out. 5 years ago, Nelson hired Simon Wheeldon, a local product who spent many years in the professional game in both North America and Europe, and his knowledge, hockey contacts, and commitment to the community were instrumental in the Leafs' success. He helped build a model of success in Nelson and this move to hire Steve Junker seems similar in that he wants to be part of the Rebels organization long-term. Craig also told me the players were very interested to see who would be brought on board as coach, and that most would like to return to Castlegar unless opportunities at higher levels of hockey present themselves.
A couple other tidbits.. the Nelson Leafs should have their head coach in place in the next two to three weeks. This of course after Simon Wheeldon stepped aside on April 15th. A member of the board told Mountain FM they have a couple of names in mind.
Revelstoke defenceman Brad Irving has received a scholarship to SFU. Good luck to him and hope he enjoys life on Burnaby Mountain.
The Chase Chiefs saga continues. As we await for Kelowna Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton to hand down his verdict on whether the team can play in Rutland, word has come out now that the other local group looking to land an expansion team in Chase won't be able to do so until the 2011-12 season, as they've apparently missed the application deadline.
I was in Vancouver for Game 6 of the Western Conference final between the Giants and Tri-City Americans on Sunday afternoon. Tri-City won 5-2 to advance to the league finals against the Calgary Hitmen. Easily the most noticeable Giant out there was Trail product and former Nitehawk Craig Cunningham. He hit a post early in the game, scored a goal in the second, and had a ton of hustle despite the rest of his team looking really tired and lacking urgency. Cunningham has come a long way since I watched him in his rookie WHL season in 2006-07, good luck to him and Nelson's Isaac MacLeod (of the Penticton Vees) who are both ranked among North American skaters for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.