Photo by Don Fennell
Three years ago, the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) marked its 50th anniversary with a January tournament showcasing each of its member clubs. The three-day event, part of the regular-season schedule, proved so popular officials decided to hold it annually.
The 2018 classic, again at Richmond’s Minoru Arenas from Friday, Jan. 5 through Sunday, Jan. 7 will feature all 11 teams. Each club will play twice over the three days, giving coaches and scouts from Junior A, Major Junior and university programs a perfect opportunity to check out the wealth of talent.
Doug Paterson, part of the Richmond Sockeyes’ ownership group, has chaired the PJHL board of governors for the last four seasons. He believes the league is under-appreciated.
“We still have things to get done, but we have come a long way,” he says, noting the league plans to expand by two next season with franchises in Pitt Meadows and White Rock. That will bring the membership roll to 13.
Paterson believes the product on the ice is consistently entertaining, and the player talent beyond what many perceive. Indeed the league continually serves as a stepping stone for players on their way to college or pro hockey, such as current NHLers, Kyle Turris and Milan Lucic (Grandview Steelers) and Karl Alzner (Richmond Sockeyes). But the league’s true forte is developing good people as well as good hockey players.
One of the league’s flagship franchises, the Sockeyes, have historically also been one of its most successful—both on the ice and off it.
Just a year after joining the circuit in 1990, the team (after losing the regular-season race by a single point the Abbotsford Pilots) won its first playoff championship over the latter in what was then known as the West Coast Junior Hockey League.
Goaltender Judd Lambert, who would later coach the Sockeyes to a pair of league titles, was named the MVP. Additionally, the club has, for many seasons, had a scholarship program in place for its graduating players.
“We want to give back to the community, and second we believe life after hockey requires education and or a trade school opportunity,” explains Paterson. “Some (other) teams have tried to set up an annual alumni, but to sustain this you need the right mix of people who have the passion and commitment.”
Paterson believes the PJHL is the perfect development league for Junior A, and in some cases Major Junior hockey. He says the 42-game schedule offers up a good mix of games-to-practice (teams average two games a week) while allowing the players to go to school and or work.
“I believe the PJHL is one of the finest junior leagues in the country,” he says. “We have always competed well in the Keystone Cup (national Junior B championship).”
Going forward, Paterson would like the PJHL to continue working with minor hockey associations in its respective member communities, perhaps even strengthening the existing relationships by sitting on boards or assisting with hockey development.
OVERTIME: Following is a brief look at each of the teams heading into this weekend’s Winter Classic at Minoru Arenas.
Abbotsford Pilots—When the Pilots take to the ice, scouts will no doubt be focusing in one player in particular. Baylee Wright leads the league in scoring with 30 goals and 63 points in just 28 games. Boasting the league’s best powerplay (20.71 percent), the Pilots are 19-9-1-3 and hold down top spot in the Harold Brittain Conference. Rookie goalie Liam Marshall has won his first five starts and sports a .915 save percentage.
Aldergrove Kodiaks—The defending regular-season and playoff champions have introduced quite a few rookies to their lineup this season, reflected in the standings with a 9-18-1-2 record going into the Winter Classic. However, veterans Matt Oliver and Kyle Bosko are providing strong offensive leadership. Oliver isfourth in league scoring 47 points in 29 games, and Bosko eighth with 43 points in 29 games.
Delta Ice Hawks—Virtually all the Hawks have done this season is win. Sporting a league-best 29-2-0-1 record, the club is led by dynamic scorer Jordan Deyremenjian who is second in league scoring with 24 goals and 54 points in 29 games. Not far behind is teammate Gary Dhaliwal with 45 points in 31 games and Daniel Rubin with 37 points in 32 games. Jonathan Rees Jr. has 33 points in 30 games, leading all the league’s rookies in scoring. The goaltending tandem of rookie Jordy Engleson (1.56 goals-against average and .932 save percentage) and Jordan Naylor (.912 save percentage) has been nothing short of stellar.
Grandview Steelers—With an 18-11-1-2 record, the Steelers are in the thick of the playoff race in ultra-competitive Tom Shaw Conference. The club doesn’t have a single player in the top 10 in league scoring, but succeeds by committee. Nico Bruno is their top scorer with 32 points in 32 games. The Steelers also boast one of the league’s top goalies in Cale Dolan who has 14 wins and a .904 save percentage.
Langley Trappers—The league’s newest franchise is experiencing growing pains, but their 10-18-1-2 record heading into the Winter Classic is nonetheless respectable. It’s even more impressive considering the majority of the players are rookies, including top scorers Joshua Boelema and Carter Graham who have 18 points apiece.
Mission City Outlaws—Though well off the pace of Harold Brittain Conference-leading Abbotsford and second-place Ridge Meadows, at 12-19-0-1 the Outlaws currently hold down a playoff spot. Kyle Mooney leads the Outlaws with 24 points in 30 games, while Matthew Trulsen is one of the league’s top goalies with a .922 save percentage.
North Vancouver Wolf Pack—Mitch Ledyard leads a high-scoring Pack with 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 31 games. Ledyard, who has seven game-winning goals this season, hails from a well-known athletic family. His uncle Grant Ledyard played over 1,000 games in the NHL, while his paternal grandfather Hal was the renowned quarterback of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the 1960s. The Pack also boasts two of the PJHL’s top goalies, with both Alex Forster and rookie Jonathan Holloway sporting above .920 save percentages. Overall, the Pack are tied with Richmond in the Tom Shaw Conference standings—both with 45 points.
Port Moody Panthers—Winners of their final game of 2017, 8-2 over the Surrey Knights, the Panthers are led offensively by Kevin Allen who has 20 points in 22 games. Overall, the Panthers are 9-20-0-1 and last in the Tom Shaw Conference standings.
Richmond Sockeyes—Hosts of this weekend’s PJHL Winter Classic, the Sockeyes (21-5-1-2) have won 11 games in a row but remain 14 points back of front-running Delta in the Tom Shaw Conference standings. Captain Tyler Andrews is third in league scoring with 24 goals and 52 points in 28 games, while Nic Bizzutto and Brett Gelz are second and third in team scoring with 31 and 30 points respectively. Rookie goalie Hardarshan Hoonjan is one of the league’s top goalies with a .914 save percentage and has earned two shutouts in 17 games.
Ridge Meadows Flames—With a 20-11-1-0, only the Abbotsford Pilots sport a better record among teams in the Harold Brittain Conference. The epitome of team, the Flames rely on balanced scoring with two players just outside the top-10 in league scoring—Andrew Strelezki is 11th with 35 points in 31 games and Cameron Kovesdi who is 12th with 34 points in 31 games. The Flames also enjoy the luxury of a solid goaltending tandem, with Cooper Anderson and Paul Tucek each having played 18 games and sporting save percentages of .907 and .916 respectively.
Surrey Knights—Nov. 24, 2017 was a big date in the history of the Knights. It was on that particular Monday, earlier this season, when the club netted its first win in 32 games by upsetting the Abbotsford Pilots 2-0 at MSA Arena. A pair of powerplay goals, one late in the first period and an empty-netter with 20 seconds to play in the third period, completed the story. Zakery Babin was the obvious choice as first star as the goaltender made 49 saves to earn the shutout. Rookie Kalem Burns leads the team in scoring with 15 points in 29 games. Overall, the Knights are 1-30-0-1 and last in the Harold Brittain Conference.
Winter Classic Schedule (all games at Richmond’s Minoru Arenas)
Friday, Jan. 5
10 am, Surrey vs. Delta
1 pm, Abbotsford vs. Ridge Meadows
4 pm, Port Moody vs. Mission
7 pm, Grandview vs. Richmond
Saturday, Jan. 6
10 am, Delta vs. North Vancouver
1 pm, Langley vs. Aldergrove
4 pm, Ridge Meadows vs. Surrey
7 pm, Mission vs. Grandview
Sunday, Jan. 7
1 pm, North Vancouver vs. Port Moody
4 pm, Aldergrove vs. Abbotsford
7 pm, Richmond vs. Langley
*Video at richmondsentinel.ca