On Saturday, Jan. 27, Daniel Wittenberg (Revelstoke Grizzlies), Raphael Eloe (Spokane Braves), Anmol Garcha (Princeton Posse) and Nolan Kelly (North Okanagan Knights) all scored hat-tricks. It’s the third time this season that four players have scored three goals in a day.
The second time was on Jan. 5 when Kobe Mason (Columbia Valley Rockies), Tristan Weill (Kimberley Dynamiters), Cam Whitelaw (Golden Rockets) and Nikolai Morrison (Creston Valley Thunder Cats did it. The first time was Nov. 18.
This week’s KIJHL Notebook focuses on each team’s defence, specifically the defensive defencemen and their strengths.
Eddie Mountain Division
Fernie Ghostriders head coach-GM Ty Valin likes that his group plays a simple, defence-first style.
“They are learning that the less amount of time we play in our end, the more time they can play in the offensive zone. They are embracing that and buying into it.”
Andrew Kennedy has been a steady presence and “does absolutely everything right in the defensive zone at all times.”
“He blocks shots, plays physical, and has a very good stick and makes a good first pass. He plays a ton and embraces every minute of it.”
Kaden Slobodian has been a rock and is always stepping up his game.
“When push comes to shove, he steps up. He has a great stick and contributes to the power-play as well.”
Cole Fisher has come a long way in his three seasons.
“He is settling in to be a nice defensive defenceman and is starting to get on the scoresheet which is good and plays all situations.”
Kimberley Dynamiters head coach-GM Derek Stuart likes the variety of his defence and how each player contributes.
“We have quite a few guys who can skate and make plays which is becoming a lost art for defencemen unfortunately.”
“Jackson Murphy and Carson Cleland have been a solid defensive pairing for us. They communicate well, are consistent and focused on defence first. Reese Walsh has been outstanding for two months and new addition Liam Furlong has been very good since arriving and he’s getting better each game.”
Columbia Valley Rockies head coach-GM Tayler Sincennes has the luxury of being able to plug a defenceman into any situation needed.
“I like that I don’t necessarily have one super stud defenceman, but have seven that can play every night and be a difference maker.”
Local Paddy Donohue, 18, has taken on the shutdown role.
“He doesn’t give up very many opportunities and makes a good first pass.”
Trade deadline pick up Nathan Kaye has performed really well.
“He is a physical presence with a defence first mentality.”
Creston Valley Thunder Cats head coach-GM Brad Tobin has seen players find their role to contribute well.
“We want to keep improving, making sure we are moving the puck really well.”
Veteran Leo Senger “is pretty underrated” and Tobin says he plays a really quiet game and defensively he is really good with his stick on the puck.
“We rely on him quite a bit for the less fancy role.”
Riley Kostering is another who fits that mold.
Dreyton Hayward – “He is a smaller guy, but he plays bigger than what he is listed (5-9, 160-pounds). He’s learned how to compete against bigger guys and has played really aggressively. He is starting to move the puck up really well.”
Sidney Brill has provided another puck moving option since coming over in a trade from Princeton.
Golden Rockets interim head coach Jed Houseman likes his young, mobile group that will be a key part of their future.
“I like the offensive upside of Brandon Spilchen and Stefan Bodtker leading the way that way.”
Recently acquired Deylan Watson is “one of my favourite all-around defensive defenceman.”
“He is nice and steady back there, and closes gaps. He’s pretty smooth, and always smart with the puck and has been a nice presence to have.”
Jake Vanlerberg has been steady and likes to play the body. Chaz Jaeb is another who plays that way.
“He likes to have that physical edge and has an excellent shot, probably one of the hardest on the team, that he needs to get it off quicker at times.”
Neil Murdoch Division
The Beaver Valley Nitehawks are loaded with depth, which head coach-GM Terry Jones really likes, especially because each player brings something different – a big shot, strong puck passing, skating. Among them, Will Caputo, Kaleb Percival, Lucas Gartner and newcomer Jaxson Walker have shown the ability to play as forwards when needed.
Spencer Dixon-Reusz – “He’s a great skater, and really works on his positional game. He’s a great leader who logs a lot of minutes.”
Brody Martini – “He is probably the most unsung guy and makes such great decisions. He’s got an amazing stick, great reach. The thing about Brody that stands out is his intelligence and ability to read the play.”
Lucas Gartner – “Lucas logs a lot of minutes and can be on the special teams, but 5-on-5, he and Brody have been a good shutdown pair. He’s got a good stick, is a good skater and physical, but not overly physical. Lucas’ offence has really picked up as he’s really had a good second half.”
Head coach-GM David Hnatiuk has built a solid backend for the Grand Forks Border Bruins. He likes how they move the puck up ice, have solid first passes and chip in offensively. They are also young so “still learning and growing.”
Reid Schechtel – With a plus-21 in 34 games, Hnatiuk said he is pretty solid.
“I’m really happy with Reid’s defensive play. He blocks a ton of shots, plays a smart, simple game – he’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy.”
Logan McCabe – “He has come along as a first-year player and is at plus-12 in 30 games. “Logan is developing really nicely, getting a bit better each week.”
The Castlegar Rebels’ biggest strength is their size as only two defenceman are under six feet with the lightest weighing 165-pounds.
“Keeping things simple and understanding each players’ limits definitely benefits our team,” said head coach Nicholas Headrick. “Donovan Ouellette and Owen Latendresse are both extremely physical, especially when it comes to zone entries.
“They are really good at shutting down cycles in our own zone,” he continued. “The biggest thing with our D-core is that we trust all six guys. They all play relatively the same minutes. On any given night, our No. 6 guy can be a top two guy or vice versa. We have a lot of stability.”
Briar McNaney feels the Nelson Leafs have a dynamic blueline that is boosted by speed and shutdown abilities.
“Jackson McIntosh is probably our best shutdown guy,” said the Leafs head coach. “He has really tight gaps in the neutral zone and doesn’t get burned wide often. He’s hard-to-play against and plays as physically as he can.”
Tyler Seminoff – “The best part about him is he’s a good problem solver and communicates. He helps his partners out in every way and is effective with gap control.”
JD Hemming – “He’s an energetic kid, who plays a physical style, communicates well, moves pucks efficiently and sticks to the game plan.”
The Spokane Braves are mobile, can make breakout passes and are physical with Matthew Chambers leading in that area.
Colton Tidd — “Colton is a physical player who uses his positioning and body to keep players away from high scoring areas.”
Knox Trottier — “Knox is a solid skater and does a good job closing the gap and keeping the play in front of him.”
Jack Brough — “Jack is really good at making the first breakout pass. He positions himself well in the D-zone when his partner has the puck.”
Joey Epkey — “Joey is a dynamic passer who sees the game really well. He is also very physical and not afraid to battle in front of the net.”
Bill Ohlhausen Division
The Princeton Posse are loaded with talent.
“We have guys like Lucas Sadownyk, and Curtis Gould who have been around for a few years and play the right way,” said Posse head coach Mark Readman. “They ultimately help stir the pot for our defence core and a welcome addition back is Grady Sterling-Ponech – a guy that can chew some big heavy minutes and really play in any situation.”
Readman also praised their rookie class of Nathan Scott, Ben Dods and Jeffrey Stewart. “Joshua Roy has come a long way this season and found his stride.”
Gould – “He is strong in terms of being extremely physical and makes it really hard to earn space in our defensive zone. His game has been steadling coming along for the last couple of weeks.”
Stewart – “He is a bigger body, who makes it tough on opponents to earn space. He is really hard to knock off pucks.”
Dods- “He is really good at earning space, rolling off contact and still maintaining possession.”
Roy – “He is good at finding space, being slippery and efficient with stick checks.”
North Okanagan Knights head coach-GM Liam McOnie likes how their group prides itself on being good puck movers. While Colton Fleming has stepped up in a big way offensively, his defensive play is very solid. And Ian George has been playing big minutes while contributing to the second unit power-play.
Grayson Williamson – “He does a great job of boxing out and making the front of our net a tough space. Carter Hartt has done a good job as well of having a good stick and interrupting passing and shot lanes with strong positional play.”
The Osoyoos Coyotes have used converted forwards Austin Rampone and Garrett Kurtz with their five regulars, but ever since acquiring Parker Garries from Sicamous, head coach Ken Law has seen “a vast improvement in our defensive structure and with Rampone and Kurtz starting to gel” they have confidence in the group to make sound decisions.
“Our younger pair of Gage Latimer and Jordan Gale are becoming very dependable and adding veterans like Levi Brewer and Sean Quinn we feel fortunate to have a healthy group headed in the right direction going into the stretch run prior to playoffs.”
Brewer – “At 20, he leads by example and there is no one that works harder and gives more than our captain.”
Quinn – “He’s another veteran that has battled through injuries and is starting to be the player we knew he could be.”
Garries – “He has shown to be a very valuable addition with an offensive side to go with his shutdown demeanor.”
Gale – “He’s one of our first-year players that has shown steady improvement and willingness to succeed. He is starting to really find his mojo now.”
Latimer – “He’s another first-year starting to mature and shows signs of the player we feel he can become – a strong, physical player with great attitude and work ethic. He’s very dedicated to the defensive side.”
Rampone – “He is our Swiss army knife. He serves so many different options.”
The Kelowna Chiefs have a mix of skill and physicality.
Mathias Reha – “He is a consistent and gritty defender who makes teams aware of the threat of his big hits and will sacrifice his body to block shots,” said Chiefs head coach Travers Rebman.
Aiden Cotroneo – “He’s a big body who can lean on guys and be hard to play against. He’s a powerful skater able to recover and track guys down.”
Jake Kessler – “He’s a big hitter with a good, active stick and closes gaps well.”
Zach Peitsch – “He’s another guy team’s have to be aware of when he’s on the ice. He is hardworking and a physical presence.”
Liam Wright – “He’s a smaller guy, but uses his speed and a pretty good stick to contain plays. He transitions pucks quickly to avoid getting into trouble.”
Doug Birks Division
Jiri Novak is very happy with the players that make up the Revelstoke Grizzlies blueline and how they play.
“The older guys, they have a standard from experience,” said the Grizzlies head coach. “I’m even happy with the younger guys, how they have stepped up and were able to change their play when they came from midget.”
For the Grizzlies, who have allowed a league best 70 goals in 38 games, defence always comes first.
“Austin Wooley and Kaidon Mah are more defensive, but they can also contribute offensively,” said Novak, who preferred not to classify a player as a defensive defenceman. “We want to play both ways and that’s how we choose these players. They will be really solid defensively, and can bring something extra on offence.”
As the season has progressed Nick Deschenes has built the Sicamous Eagles defence group.
“We have a good mix of defensive and offensive minded defencemen,” said Deschenes. “Everyone brings a different element to the table. We’ve got puck movers, skaters, and we’re trying to minimize our defensive zone time.”
An early season pick up from Kimberley, Duncan Paradis brings the knowledge and understanding the “work ethic required to have success at our level.” Paradis won a KIJHL Teck Cup championship followed by a silver medal at last year’s Cyclone Taylor Cup.
Deschenes said that Ezra Chan and Landon Janz are more aggressive and “like to take away time and space and are tough in front of the net.”
Kalan Dickie is well-rounded, gets involved in net-front battles and stands his ground.
“We have a blue-collar, hard-working group in which everyone has to buy in and we have to outwork others,” said Kamloops Storm head coach Jan Ludvig.
Andon Rende – “He is arguably our most consistent player this year. There are games where he plays 25 minutes and is out there against the other team’s best players.”
Devin Benson – “A two-way defenceman who is solid defensively, and leaning a little to the offensive side because he’s very gifted offensively. Evan Douglas, Sam Lewis are two-way defenceman who are really good defensively, but big time offensive upside.”
John Spraggs – “He is a two-way player, who is strong and plays physical.”
Kade Lawlor – “He is physical, strong and is probably going to end up being a two-way player because he has a really good shot. He has offensive potential that can come out next year.”
Ludvig also talked about Kyle Sanford and Sam Zulyniak, who are forwards converted to defence who are doing really well – similar to Douglas.
100 Mile House Wranglers interim head coach Lee Hansen sees many strengths on their blueline. They recently added Tate Felstad who is fitting into their structure and playing well.
Nick Sloane – “He is a good stay-at-home defensemen with good positional strength to support his teammates.”
“Tyler Smolik and Ethan Hofstrand are important to the special teams.”
“Trent Thiessen and Nolan Wytrykusz are counted on to shut down the top lines.”
Chase Heat head coach Brad Fox is seeing progress from first-year guys learning how to play in every situation, while the second year and third-year players realize that playoffs is a must and the urgency is there.
Bryan Fraser – “He plays a simple, hard game. Get it in, get it out. That’s what he does well.”
Declan Roswell -”He is the same as Fraser and is finding ways to do that.”
“Andrew Morris has been a real nice surprise and Easton Zenko has been a real nice surprise on the offensive side. They push the pace. They are learning the importance of defending first.”