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Sockeyes angling for successful season

By Don Fennell

Published 1:53 PDT, Thu August 29, 2019

Outside Minoru Arenas, passersby are basking in the warm glow of the bright summer sun while inside the venerable Richmond rink the boys of winter are going through their paces in preparation for another season.

Outside Minoru Arenas, passersby are basking in the warm glow of the bright summer sun while inside the venerable Richmond rink the boys of winter are going through their paces in preparation for another season.

Though it's late August, the start of hockey season (though it can be argued it never really ends) is fast approaching.

A group of talented young prospects, more than double the 23 players who will start the season, hope to impress the coaching staff that they deserve to be Richmond Sockeyes.

Deciding which players to keep won't be easy for head coach Brett Reusch and his team. And as next Thursday's season opener (7 p.m. Sept. 5 versus White Rock Whalers at Minoru) nears, the dilemma only gets more challenging.

"These guys are already in tip-top shape, ready to go and fight for spots," says Reusch prior to another training camp scrimmage. "It's very competitive."

Welcome to hockey today. Where training camp is a lot different than yesteryear. No longer can players use the time to get into shape.

"It's definitely changed. They're playing hockey all year round now," says Reusch, a former Sockeye player who is beginning his third year behind the bench. "Hockey is their No. 1 priority that's for sure."

In a nation where hockey is a passion, these young players are particularly dedicated. The prospect of suiting up for the Sockeyes, consistently one of the top junior teams in the country, has potentially many merits.

The Sockeye alumni boasts several former NHLers including Jason Garrison, Karl Alzer and Ray Sawada. And while few, if any, of these players will realize the ultimate dream of playing in the NHL, the possibility is clearly there. And even if that goal isn't realized, playing collegiately certainly is. Above all, the Sockeyes emphasize character and put considerable effort into helping their players become the best they can be—in life as well as hockey.

"We don't just take the best hockey players," says Reusch. "The Sockeyes are more than just a team. We're a family. I look for character. What kind of goals does this person have, what kind of person is he?"

The script may not be new, but it's the blueprint to the team's success that has netted two Western Canadian championships, six provincial titles and six Pacific Junior Hockey League crowns.

When the exhibition season ends, and it's time for the games to begin for real, Reusch has some definite goals to make this edition of the Sockeyes one that further contributes to a legacy of success. And like last season, a fast start wouldn't hurt.

"Every game is huge," he says. "We lost out by four points last—that's two more wins in October. But we also can't look too far ahead. We kind of break up the season into five-game segments, and take it a game at a time within that."

The Sockeyes enter the 2019-20 campaign without two important pieces from last year's team. Goaltender Jeremy Kellaway and defeceman and captain Matt Brown have both graduated, meaning others will have to step up to fill the critical roles. But Reusch is optimistic.

"Every team faces adversity one way or another, and when you battle through those I think it makes you a stronger team," he says. "The league is going younger and so are we. But these guys all want to move on so accountability and being reliable and working hard every game are critical. We've also got to implement a system to play to the strength of our team. "

Given his choice, Reusch would like the Sockeyes to a fast skating team reflecting the speed that is so prevalent in today's game.

"The game is so fast, and I don't mean just skating. Everything is done at top speed."

That also makes goaltending—like a quarterback in football, the backbone of any team's success—an important line of defence. Equally important will be special teams—both on the powerplay and shorthanded.

"Look at the top four teams last year," Reusch points out. "All of them were also top four on special teams."

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