There will be no easing into the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League season for the North Island Silvertips.
They host perennial power Vancouver Northwest Giants on Saturday and Sunday to open their season, and second year head coach Jason Dubyna is hoping they see some positive results early.
For 10 of his players, it will be their first taste of hockey at this level, but there is some good, young talent in that group, including defenceman Dylan Coghlan, goalie John Hawthorne, and forwards Carter Turnbull and Bo Lewis.
They will complement a strong returning core of players, including newly minted captain Joe Surgenor.
The key for this year is to consistently build to the end of the season.
"We want to see more of a progression throughout the year, so we continue to build," said Dubyna. "We should be able to compete with all of the teams come playoff time, and not just be an underdog that's expecting to lose."
Last year was bit of a learning experience for Dubyna. They were right in the thick of things at the mid-way point, but after Christmas they fell way off, and scraped into the playoffs with an 11-26-3 record.
The eventual league champion Giants swept them away in two games in the first round of the post-season.
He realized they have to prepare differently than they did last year for their games.
"We have to prepare through the week in our practices on more of a game-to-game basis, we have to prepare for each opponent," he said. "The teams that had success. .. didn't play the same against each opponent, they were able to adapt against the strengths of their opponent."
Dubyna is excited by the new additions to the club. He is expecting big things from Coghlan, Carter Turnbull, Matt Cahill, Matt O'Dwyer and Hawthorne.
"We don't have many 15 year olds this year, so the guys we picked we expect will do well," he said.
They will be joining some solid returning talent including defencemen Joe Gage and Coleman Doney and forwards Surgenor, Hunter Findlater, Nik Malenica and Trent Bell.
Their strength potentially is on the back line with Coghlan and Gage, the big wild card is their offence. They have boom and bust potential.
Their first line of Surgenor, Lewis and Findlater should be dangerous, but they are going to need some guys to step into scoring roles on the team.
"I think top-to-bottom on our forward lines we've got good size and skill, the biggest thing is to have them build chemistry in their lines early so they can create some offence for us," said Dubyna.
The head coach is expecting to be able to lean on Surgenor, however, as his top centre coming off a 15-point (five goals, 10 assists) rookie season. So much so, he named the five-foot-11, 159-pound Courtenay native captain.
"He's just an all-round solid kid," said Dubyna. "As a competitor he's quite and steady, but he's a kid you can rely on. With his demeanor, he demands respect from his teammates."
In net, they are well appointed as well with Liam Young back for his second year, after leading the 'Tips with six wins last year and posting a 3.56 goals against average. He will be splitting time with Hawthorne, who was a stand out at the U-16 Team B.C. camp.
Dubyna says they will both start at least 40 per cent of the games, and battle for the final 20 per cent.
"Heading into the end of the season we would hope to have a goalie that's stepped forward," said Dubyna.
One of the biggest issues they do face is their size. No, they are not a bunch of Smurfs, actually it is the exact opposite. They are quite big for the league with 11 players six-feet tall or bigger, including Malenica who is listed at six-foot-five.
Dubyna is worried about their ability to play within the confines of the rulebook and not inadvertently be taking penalties. It is a problem that cropped up in both of their exhibition losses.
"It's learning to play smart and not get over zealous playing too physical, and not make it easy for the refs to call the penalties," he said.
Still, he does not want to rein them in too much and take away from what should be a sizeable advantage.
"Because we have good size, we want to take advantage of that and play aggressively," said Dubyna. "Last year the focus was on offence and teaching defence, this year we'll be good defensively, we just need to make sure we learn the offensive game."
Puck drops today at 5:15 p.m. at the Nanaimo Ice Centre and at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday.
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