Change is never easy – the Valley West Hawks sometimes just make it look that way.
Since December, the BC Major Midget League hockey team – which has been perched at or near the top of the standings since the puck first dropped in the fall – has dealt with more significant change than many of their BCMML competitors, as two of their top forwards, Hunor Torzsok and leading scorer Arshdeep Bains both left the team for the junior ranks that month.
Torzsok left first, joining the Nanaimo Clippers of the BC Hockey League before moving to the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, and Bains stuck with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL after originally only getting called up for a short weekend stint.
“We had to make some adjustments to our power play with the absence of Bains, and we’ve changed a few other things as well, but things are starting to go in the right direction,” said Hawks first-year head coach Rob Evers.
“No one on our team was expecting to lose anyone, but it’s happened to us two years in a row, and it’s just part of the game, and part of those (players) doing what they need to do to (move up) to junior.”
For the Hawks, January was spent adjusting to the loss of two key players while also scouring local rinks to find a couple replacements, which they did in Vancouver Island native Davis Frank and former Semiahmoo midget A1 player Thomas Jenkins, both of whom are just 15 years old.
And still, the team – now among the youngest in the BCMML – is hovering at the top of the league, with a record of 23-4-2-1 (win-loss-tie-overtime loss). The Hawks sit just two points behind the first-place Cariboo Cougars, but have played two less games than their Prince George rivals after last week’s bye weekend.
This week, Valley West is back on the ice against the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds, who currently sit third in the 11-team league, five points back of the Hawks. The two squads are to face off Thursday night at the Langley Events Centre, and play again Sunday at the Abbotsford Centre.
“We’ve got a big test coming up with Fraser Valley,” Evers said.
“The first time we played them (in November), they were missing a few guys and the scores were 11-3 and (7-3). But our team is a little bit different now and so is their’s, so we’re looking forward to playing them.”
Despite the changes over the last two months, Evers said his squad hasn’t lost its main regular-season focus – finishing first overall. A first-place finish would give the Hawks home-ice advantage throughout the entirety of the playoffs.
Home-ice is a big deal in the MML, Evers explained, because best-of-three playoff series are not alternated between the two teams’ home rinks – the higher seed hosts all three games, “and the last thing we want to do, for example, is have to travel all the way to Prince George (if we make it to the finals), when we could play here.”
“Finishing first is really important to us, and the coaching staff will be doing all we can to make sure the guys on the ice are (prepared)… and can go out there and finish first,” he continued.
Evers was also complimentary of the Hawks’ two new recruits. Frank, he pointed out, has scored eight points in his first six games with the team, while Jenkins – who didn’t even try out for the major-midget team at the start of the season – scored a goal in the team’s most recent game, and “continues to get better every game,” Evers said.
“(Jenkins) wasn’t really on our radar because he didn’t come to tryouts, but… the league gave us a little bit of time to go out and find the best suitable replacements (for Bains and Torzsok), and after watching (Semiahmoo’s) midget A1 team play, there wasn’t anybody close to him,” Evers said.
“With all these changes… it opened a door to allow other kids the chance to play with us, and all the guys are just taking the initiative to become better players.”