Usually when coaches are out trying to manage expectations during the preseason, it is often a rebuilding year.
For the Nanaimo Buccaneers, hopes are this year is anything but.
However, coming off of a Vancouver Island Junior B Hockey League North Division regular season title in their inaugural campaign, those expectations are sky-high, and maybe a little unrealistic.
"I think we had a better than banner year last year," said head coach Brad Knight. "We have to be really careful, we still are only in our second year. I'm hesitant to make a lot of big statements, because we still are a growing concern."
Knight says a lot of the teams in the North are taking the Bucs' lead from last year and are recommitting to youth. In their first season, they had as many as 17 rookies in their lineup on some nights and still ran away with top spot in the division.
As they return for their second campaign, they have a number of veterans back in the lineup, including Daniel Foglietta, Will McNamara, Noah Russi, Derian Hamilton, Riel Gibson, Shane Dial and Jake Calverly.
Where they made their headlines last year, though, was in the success of their young guys, four of which who were playing junior A hockey by the end of it, including Garrett Dunlop, Corey Renwick, Jordan Levesque and Adam Smith.
There is once again the potential for some young guns to make a big impact this year and in the next few years with the likes of Jordan Topping, Liam Craig and Rowan Siider.
"Our 15 and 16 year olds had an excellent camp," said Knight.
But, as is the case with Patrick Bajkov, some of them have other options ahead of them.
Bajkov was arguably the most dangerous player offensively in camp, despite being just 15 years old. He has plenty of suitors as well. He was a sixth round pick (128th overall) of the Everett Silvertips in the 2012 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft, and he will be heading to junior A camps after Everett.
"Going (to Everett) this year, hopefully I just come out with some good, positive feedback and I'll see what they say," said Bajkov, who also has a return to the Silvertips as a strong possibility. Last year he scored 31 points (20 goals, 11 assists) in 40 games as an undersized rookie with the North Island Silvertips in the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League.
Over the last 12 months, however, he has grown 3 inches and put on 15 pounds, and he has noticed the difference.
Now at five-foot-11 and 160 pounds he has been able to play with confidence among the bigger, more experienced players in camp.
"Size and strength is a big thing when you're going against the bigger guys and 20 year olds," he said. One of the Buccaneers big strengths this year should be on the blue-line.
It will be anchored by returning vets Hamilton, Russi and Jake Calverly, while young guys like Siider have impressed.
"I am really pleasantly surprised by the depth of the back end," said Knight, also noting strong camps by the likes of Zachary Bayko and Coleman Doney. "There are some real young nice kids that we aren't going to keep this year but I'm really happy with."
Russi, 18, was a trade deadline acquisition last season from the Oceanside Generals, and played a big role with the Buccaneers down the stretch and through their playoff run.
He is looking forward to his first full year in Nanaimo.
"All of the guys are really excited, we're the top dogs in the North Island so I'm sure all of the teams will be coming for us," said the five-foot-10, 185 pound rear guard. "We've had a good camp, we have a good coach, we're a hard working team. We don't have any star players, but if work together we're going to good things."
One area of concern is in net, as they face the prospect of having neither goalie from last year return. Veteran starter Cameron Large finished up his junior eligibility last season and Riley Medves, while in camp this year, also has some opportunity with Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. If he does not come back, the competition in net will boil down to Nanaimo Midget Tier I Clippers' goalie Dade Beaudry-Young, Ryan Waldhuas out of Parksville and Steven Ridley out of Campbell River.
Another big hole they will need to fill is that of captain Quentin McShane, who will be at the Langley Rivermen camp this year in the BCHL and also has options out in Ontario.
The Buccaneers have three exhibition games beginning on Aug. 27 when they travel to Victoria to play the defending VIJHL champion Cougars at 7:15 p.m. On Aug. 30, they host the Campbell River Glacier Kings at 7 p.m. and then wrap up their pre-season in Parksville the following night against the Generals at 7:30 p.m.
Josh Aldrich, Daily News / Nanaimo Buccaneers head coach Brad Knight address his team during their final training camp practice at the Nanaimo Ice Centre on Sunday.;
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