The 2011-12 KIJHL regular season begins on two local fronts this evening, as the Castlegar Rebels host the Nelson Leafs and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks visit the Grand Forks Border Bruins.
NELSON @ CASTLEGAR (7:30, Complex)
The Rebels will hoist their 2011 Kootenay Conference championship banner to the rafters prior to tonight's puck drop. Fans in Castlegar will see a much different-looking squad tonight than the one that came within two games of a KIJHL championship six months ago.
Scott Morisseau, Anthony Delong and Tyler Robinson will anchor the forward lines as overagers (though Morisseau will miss the first few weeks of the season), while 19 year-old returnee Erik Alden is poised to have a big year on the back end.
Between the pipes, Alex Ross has been back practicing with the club for the past week, while Nanton, Alberta's Connor Beauchamp is set to embark on his first season in the KIJHL as an 18 year-old.
Fellow rookies Braydon Horcoff and Bryce Eviston are two skaters that stuck out to me during the exhibition season as well for Castlegar, watch for them to lead the youth movement up front and on the back end respectively.
I chatted with Rebels bench boss Steve Junker earlier this week, to listen, click here.
Nelson fans may already have noticed a similar amount of turnover to their roster. The Leafs' big offseason acquisition, goaltender Andrew Walton, should make his debut tonight in his home town. The twenty year-old spent last year with the Fernie Ghostriders.
A pair of Californians, Taylor Carriveau and Nik Newman will be newcomers to watch on D and up front respectively. Carriveau is a smooth skater while Newman's size is sure to strike fear in the opposition.
The Leafs' list of returnees includes the likes of snipers Colton Schell and Patrick Martens as well as overage defenseman Tyler Parfeniuk. Second-year local forward Dallon Stoddart could be in line for a breakout season as well.
BEAVER VALLEY @ GRAND FORKS (7:30, Grand Forks Arena)
The rejuvenated Border Bruins open up a new campaign with a new head coach, new players and new optimism tonight. Brent Batten has made many changes from a roster that won only 8 games last season, including two new goaltenders in 18 year-olds Ryan Bryant and Jeremy Mandoli. In fact the only three returnees from last season are defensemen Brendan Jackson and Garett McCracken, and local forward Dylan Sahara, who was set to join the BCHL's Powell River Kings at the end of last season before getting hurt.
Albertan Jacob Bergeron will don the 'C' this year in Grand Forks, Batten told me over the summer he's expecting a lot from the 19 year-old power forward. 16 year-old Austin Lee will be one to watch out of a large rookie class in the Boundary this year.
Beaver Valley meanwhile, boasts two high-profile returness in Rossland forward Chris Derochie and fellow 19 year-old Derek Lashuk. Though the Okanagan d-man will miss the first month of the season, he, Arie Postmus and Nick Perez all return from what was a stingy defence last year.
Up front, both Ryon Sookro and Tyler Collins appear to be joining former Rebel Jamie Vlanich with the SJHL's Yorkton Terriers, but Derochie should provide a wealth of offense alongside 18 year-old returnees Ryan Edwards and Keanan Patershuk. Zach Perehudoff will get a lot more playing time between the pipes for BV after serving as the backup last season.
For Nitehawks coach Terry Jones' take on the new season, click here.
Out of Town: The Spokane Braves also get things going this evening in Princeton. Mike Bay's crew features several new faces but an underrated forward corps including captain Nick Redding and offensive stalwarts Uriah Machuga, Mitch Fowler and Nick Farmer; the latter two both attended Trail's training camp this past August. Redding's younger brother Kurtis occupies one of the two 16 year-old slots this season. Zak Kroll and Brycen Fisher will anchor the blue line, while overager Branden Amatto should get the bulk of the starts in goal.