BC Hockey League players born in 1997 will play their final year of junior hockey eligibility during the 2017/2018 hockey season.
Six Powell River Kings will graduate from the league, including forwards Gavin Rauser, Jonny Evans, Kevin Obssuth, Hunter Findlater and Trent Bell, and defender Carmine Buono. The team will also lose Carter Turnbull after the season, despite the forward having one more year of eligibility. Turnbull committed to National Collegiate Athletic Association’s University of Connecticut (UCONN) for the 2018/2019 season.
Evans originally committed to play for UCONN this season, but returned for one more year of junior hockey and schooling before moving on to university next year. The native of Delta, who said he bulked up by 18 pounds during the off-season, emerged as a star player for the Kings last year.
Evans said a repeat of his 2016/2017 scoring prowess would be welcome, but more than goals are expected from him.
“Our 20-year-olds and returning players have to lead the new guys,” said Evans, “and we have to show them how to compete.”
More college commitments will likely be announced by the Kings throughout the coming season, including Obssuth, who has already committed to play for Canisius College Golden Griffins next fall.
Kings head coach Kent Lewis has expectations from his entire veteran core, according to Buono, who rejoined the Kings in December after a stint with University of Massachusetts.
“I say lead by example,” said Buono. “Do things the right way, do things hard, and with the younger guys, help them out by being good leaders on and off the ice.”
Buono played 19 regular season games and racked up 40 penalty minutes last season. Only fellow defender Jack Long, at 52 minutes, spent more time in the penalty box, but Long played 51 games. Buono said he wants to cut back on leaving his team short-handed.
“I'm here to play more disciplined this year,” said Buono, “and to play the game right and let the other teams do the undisciplined things.”
Throughout last season, Lewis consistently singled out Rauser as a player with grit, a quality the coach admires. Rauser plays the game the right way, said Lewis.
Lewis said he regards Rauser and Findlater as two of the team’s most consistent players for finishing hits and being good on the forecheck.
“I bring a physical aspect that's just my game and that's what the coach looks for,” said Rauser. “I try to lead by example by showing that on the ice. If I can do that and some other guys follow, it will bring a lot of energy to our game and we can eat the other teams up when we play energetic and physical.”
Lewis instills playing hard and physical with tenacity and discipline, and leading by example, in all of his players.
Each of the 1997-born Kings said they still feel the sting from last season’s playoff disappoint. After sweeping Cowichan Valley in four straight games to win the first-round BCHL Island Division series, Victoria Grizzlies ended the Kings season with a double-overtime victory in the final game of a best-of-seven second-round series.
“Everyone has that in the back of their minds, especially with them coming up for the home-opener weekend,” said Rauser. “We all have that brutal feeling of losing in double overtime in game seven. That kind of fires everyone up to get going, especially the veterans, and there's a lot of good rookies coming in too; everyone is excited to get the season going.”
Kings open the regular season at home on Friday, September 8. Game time is 7:15 pm at Hap Parker Arena.