Steve Robinson promised changes last spring and he wasn’t kidding.
The Delta Ice Hawks will open the Pacific Junior Hockey League regular season Tuesday night (7:35 p.m.) with a line-up full of new faces when the Grandview Steelers visit the Ladner Leisure Centre.
Goaltender Jordy Engelson and forward Mark Ephstein are the two remaining players from the 2017-18 season that ended with the PJHL championship and a silver medal at the Cyclone Taylor Cup.
Significant changes are nothing new in a development league, however, Robinson took it even further by dealing three more veterans over the past month.
The Hawks GM and head coach was less than thrilled with the conclusion of the 2018-19 campaign that saw his club advance to the conference finals but have some uncharacteristic meltdowns at the same time.
A five-game season-ending series loss to Langley saw the Hawks twice blow 3-0 leads on home ice. Scoring also dried up in a big way for a number of his key offensive players.
It left Robinson thinking a different direction was required moving forward.
“It’s a new world. Jordy and Mark are our two remaining guys from our golden team now,” he said. “It’s a big change. We have a lot of young guys coming in. We’re going to be one of the youngest teams in the league (with 11 17-year-olds). I think expectations are lower that we will fall back into the pack, but I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
Rookies Jihwan Kim and Brad Fortin were two of Robinson’s better forwards in the playoffs and could thrive with expanded roles.
The team will greatly miss blueliner Liam Visram who has made the jump to the B.C. Hockey League’s Nanaimo Clippers but will still have some experience at the back with Jake Dowell, Jesse Conroy, Ryan Bailey and Bradley Seto. The latter was acquired from North Vancouver in a deal for third-year forward Alex Suprynowicz when he asked to be moved exclusively to the defending PJHL champions. That trade also brought forward Nicholas Methorst back to Delta.
“Overall considering the framework of the situation and only having one team to deal with, I think we got a fair return,” said Robinson. “Nick actually started the season with us last year and I traded him to get Andrew Kemp back, so I hated to see him leave last year, so I saw this as a way to bring him back. I know him, he’s a year younger than Alex, so he has one more year of eligibility.”
The club’s latest acquisition is 19-year-old Truman Chiu who led the Surrey Knights in scoring a year ago.
The crop of rookies includes forward Austin Kofler who played for Robinson’s Seafair Islanders Bantam A1 team that won the Western Canadian and provincial championships two years ago. He turned 16 last month.