The Williams Lake Stampeders will begin their quest for another Coy Cup senior men’s provincial hockey championship this Saturday, Oct. 1 when they open their 2011/12 Central Interior Hockey League regular season against the expansion Lac La Hache Tomahawks.
The Stampeders have been practicing throughout September in preparation for the season making final cuts and determining this year’s roster.
Both Stampeders general manger Don Hanson and assistant general manager Kelly Kohlen said they like what they’ve seen on the ice, thus far.
“We have a team I think can go all the way,” Kohlen said, and noted several new additions to this year’s team should help.
While last year’s core players remain intact, Hanson and Kohlen said several new faces, not unfamiliar to Williams Lake hockey fans, will suit up this year.
Williams Lake forward Tyrel Lucas, who played for the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes and Calgary Hitmen from 2002-2005, is one new addition.
Tyler Fuller, formerly of the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials and the Williams Lake Timberwolves, will also be joining the club, helping strengthen the team’s blueline.
Bill McGinnis, Fuller’s Timberwolf teammate who later went on to play NCAA division one hockey at New England College, is another addition to the forward core.
Tyson Hall, who grew up in Williams Lake and last played for the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings in 2008/09, will also join the club.
“That’s a big help, having them,” Kohlen said.
“Those guys are all very good hockey players,” Hanson added.
“The crux of our lineup will be six or seven defencemen, our two goalies and the rest forward for a total of about 22 players.”
Taking on the Stamps’ goaltending duties this year is last year’s CIHL most valuable player Justin Foote and Duncan Peeman.
Kohlen, the Stamps coach for the past three seasons, has moved on to take the assistant general manager position, while former Stampeder player Cliff Philpot has taken on this year’s coaching duties. Back as this year’s assistant coach is Brooke Paquette.
This year’s CIHL schedule has been changed to an 18-game season (from 16) with the addition of the Lac La Hache Tomahawks and the Quesnel Kangaroos. The league has also been restructured into three divisions from last year’s two divisions.
In the East Division are the Smithers Steelheads, the Houston Luckies and the Hazelton Wolverines. In the West Division are the Prince Rupert Rampage, the Terrace River Kings and the Kitimat Ice Demons. Finally, in the South Division, the remaining four teams — the Omineca Ice, the Quesnel Kangaroos, the Stampeders and the Tomahawks — will round out the pack.
Teams will also no longer play home ice double-headers against the same team on both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, except once during the season, which should help increase fan attendance across the league, Hanson said.
“I think that’s great from the crowd’s perspective,” Hanson said. “Seeing different teams both days should be better.”
Following this weekend Williams Lake hits the road for a game against the Smithers Steelheads on Oct. 8 before playing the Hazelton Wolverines on Oct. 9.
The Stampeders are last year’s defending CIHL league champions, and the 2009 Coy Cup Provincial Champions, and both Hanson and Kohlen said everyone’s excited about the upcoming season.
Williams Lake could also host of this year’s Coy Cup as the Stampeders have submitted a bid; however, a decision has yet to be reached by the CIHL.
This Saturday’s action starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Cariboo Memorial Complex. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors and kids under eight are free.