With a few new faces, and some longtime players calling it a career, Williams Lake Stampeders head coach Dave Lauzon said he’s looking forward to what the Central Interior Hockey League season will bring.
“We’ve got some guys not playing this year, and we’re sad to see them go, but there’s a lot of good, young talent coming out this year we’re looking forward to seeing out there,” Lauzon said.
The Stampeders will host rivals, the Quesnel Kangaroos, Saturday night at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex in the season openers and Lauzon and the players, he said, are chomping at the bit to kickoff the senior men’s hockey season.
“We’ve got a good team and bunch of guys who are committed to playing this year,” Lauzon said. “We’ll put people in the seats. We’ll play the same style of hockey we’ve always played. Hopefully the fans will like it, and I’m looking forward to this weekend against Quesnel. It’s going to be fun.”
Retiring from this year’s team will be mainstay and captain Aaron Zurak, Jassi Sangha, goaltender Justin Foote, Jared Kohlen and Francis Johnson Jr.
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Lauzon said they’ll be undoubtedly be missed, but is looking to other players to step up into leadership roles to fill those holes in the roster.
“Aaron, for example, he is the team,” Lauzon said. “He still is. He’s the guy that was there before every game getting the jersey’s ready and making sure the team’s socks are there, and all the little things nobody sees. He did the work of three or four people, and he would still be one of the best players in the league.
“He did the work of three or four people, and it’s not as simple as replacing Aaron. He’s been the captain as long as I can remember and is still a huge part of this team, whether he wants to be or not.
“All those guys. Jassi’s taken the head coaching job with the [junior B] Kamloops Storm, and those guys all have young families and that comes before hockey.”
Back for the season are players including Dan Cohen, Andrew Fisher, Zach Sternberg, Kyler Wilkinson, Kaleb Boyle, Danny Merth, Wilf Robbins, Nathan Zurak, Darcy Flaherty, Dylan Richardson, Matt Lees, Mark Bouchard, Justin Bond, Kurtis Bond, Dave Gore, Ian O’Brien and Spencer Brooks, to name a few. Also returning to play for the team after some time off are Dan Cook and Ryan Yaworski.
“Some of these guys, they’ve had a little time off,” Lauzon said. “We’ve been skating twice a week for the past month and you can see the improvement. We’re definitely looking forward to the season and seeing what happens come game time, and I’m sure we’ll be just fine.”
The team also has a new general manager this season, Mike Yonkman, who Lauzon said has been a great help prior to the season.
“He’s knowledgable and he’s organized,” Lauzon said. “And we need people to step up from the community to help out. It’s a big, big project every year, and you can only expect so much from the board [of directors], and they do tons.”
Lauzon hopes the community will come out in droves Saturday to support the team in its opener, which gets underway at 7:30 p.m. at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex.
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“We want as many people as we can get in those seats,” Lauzon said. “The more the merrier. I know the guys always play harder when there’s more people in the seats, and rightfully so. It’s a much better arena to play in when the stands are full, the beer gardens are flowing, and it’s loud. I’d like to see that all year.”
As for what the Kangaroos will look like Saturday, Lauzon said it’s always a mystery what the other teams are up to until you get a chance to see them on the ice.
“All I know is we’ll have a good lineup Saturday night,” he said.
The Stampeders will play CIHL regular season will feature 16 games, with nine at home. Other teams in the league include the Kitimat Ice Demons, the Terrace River Kings and the Prince Rupert Rampage. After playoffs, Lauzon hopes to contend for the Coy Cup senior men’s AA championship — a tournament Williams Lake played host to in 2018 — which was won by the Dawson Creek Canucks.
“We’re looking to make a run at the Coy again,” he said. “It’ll be up in Fort St. John this year, but that’s why we do this.”
The Williams Lake Stampeders schedule for the 2018/19 season is as follows:
• Saturday, Oct. 6 vs. Quesnel Kangaroos (7:30 p.m.)
• Saturday, Oct. 13 vs. Terrace River Kings (7:30 p.m.)
• Sunday, Oct. 14 vs. Kitimat Ice Demons (1:30 p.m.)
• Saturday, Nov. 3 vs. Quesnel Kangaroos (7:30 p.m.)
• Saturday, Nov. 17 vs. Prince Rupert Rampage (7:30 p.m.)
• Saturday, Dec. 1 vs. Quesnel Kanagroos (7:30 p.m.)
• Saturday, Jan. 5 vs. Quesnel Kangaroos (7:30 p.m.)
• Saturday, Jan. 12 vs. Kitimat Ice Demons (7:30 p.m.)
• Sunday, Jan. 13 vs. Terrace River Kings (1:30 p.m.)
• Playoff schedule to be determined
• Saturday, Oct. 20 vs. Kitimat Ice Demons
• Sunday, Oct. 21 vs. Terrace River Kings
• Saturday, Nov. 10 vs. Quesnel Kangaroos
• Saturday, Nov. 24 vs. Quesnel Kangaroos
• Saturday, Dec. 15 vs. Quesnel Kangaroos
• Saturday, Jan. 26 vs. Prince Rupert Rampage
• Sunday, Jan. 27 vs. Terrace River Kings