Coming ever-so-close to winning a provincial championship last spring on home ice has resulted in a number of key players returning to the Delta Ice Hawks hungry for more.
The Ice Hawks open their Pacific Junior Hockey League regular season schedule on Tuesday night (7:35 p.m.) against the Richmond Sockeyes with five of their top six playoff scorers back in uniform. It’s an unexpected development that has GM and head coach Steve Robinson believing a serious run at a fifth PJHL championship in franchise history is within reach, never mind taking another shot at the Cyclone Taylor Cup, this time in Revelstoke next April.
Among the returnees are 20-year-olds Alex Scouras and Carson Hemenway who signed with their hometown team last season after stints in the B.C. Hockey League. As team captain, Scouras piled up 75 points in 40 games, while Hemenway was named the league’s top blueliner with 51 points in 34 games.
Nineteen year-old twin forwards Carson and Connor Merrimen are also back after terrific post-seasons, racking up 19 and 13 points respectively. Another 19-year-old, Yuji Akimoto, gives Robinson a second dominant d-man.
“I really feel between Yuji, Hammer (Hemenway), Alec and the twins we have five of the top eight or 10 players in the league,” said Robinson. “For Alec and Hammer the wounds (of losing the Cyclone Taylor Cup final) are fresh. They felt pretty burned and were in communication with me all off-season. They know the only road to (Revelstoke) is to win the league and I think they are pretty motivated. We’ll have a good mix of young and old again.”
Robinson is going to get some extra time to groom his rookie class. The PJHL has expanded its regular season to 48 games, up by four, in what will be a balanced schedule with the 13 teams playing each other four times. The conference playoff format, however, will remain intact with the fourth and fifth place finishers now playing a “survivor” series to determine the last seed for the quarter-final match-ups.
The Tom Shaw Conference should feature plenty of parity with defending champion White Rock returning a number of key players. Perennial contenders North Vancouver and Richmond will also be in the mix. PJHL and Cyclone Taylor Cup champion Langley Trappers top the list in the Harold Brittian Conference.
The Ice Hawks’ rookie class will include Delta Hockey Academy d-man alumni Logan Joslin who was a regular call-up during last year’s playoffs and is fresh off attending the Flin Flon Bombers training camp. Ty Hemenway, who captained the U18 Greater Vancouver Canadians last season, will get to play with his older brother. Cash Dumka-Jones is another 17-year-old blueliner who has had an impressive camp.
The Hawks will also turn to a couple of 2005-born goalies in Jacob Zillich and Zach Shaughnessy.