With the start of the 2017 BC Hockey Bantam Tier 2 Championship tournament only days away, the nerves are starting to set in for the host Powell River Bantam Rep Kings. To overcome the excitement of playing in its hometown, the team of players aged 13, 14 and 15 have been kept busy, said head coach Andy Welsh.
“The biggest thing is to keep them active,” said Welsh. “It’s starting to set in for them. It’s getting a little more tense, but right now the kids are having fun.”
Welsh said the team is not big in stature, but compensates for that with hard work, which resulted in an excellent year. Playing tier one for the regular season, Bantam Rep Kings switched to tier two for the playoffs and recorded seven straight playoff wins.
The team went undefeated during playoffs leading up to the tournament, beating Campbell River for the Vancouver Island championship 1-0 and 10-2 to sweep the best-of-three series.
Welsh said Campbell River was a team the Bantam Rep Kings battled and struggled with more than any other, losing three times during the regular season before being victorious in the championship series.
“I thought right at the start of the year that we had some really good players,” said Welsh. “We had some top guys who were excellent and obviously it took awhile for that to set in, but right off the bat we had good goaltending and we had our second-year leaders. I knew right away they were key players and I knew I was going to lean on them.”
Welsh said he did that for the most part this year and he knew the Bantam Rep Kings had the pieces to be a good team and could do very well.
One of Welsh’s veteran leaders is forward Carson Cecconi, 14, who said he stepped into the role because, as the coach said, he was needed.
“I had to because if we didn’t have leaders on our team, the team would have fallen apart,” said Cecconi.
Despite not knowing anything about its opponents, the tier two banner gives the team confidence going forward into the provincials because they earned their way in by winning, not on the basis of having the host team bye, said defenceman Ruven Hoppe, 14.
“It’s pretty important, it’s a nice confidence boost to come into the provincials that way,” said Hoppe. “We definitely have to not be too cocky and make sure we size up the opponent properly.”
Powell River Kings head coach Kent Lewis said he wishes the young Kings nothing but the best in the provincials.
“I’ve followed them closely because my son Blake is on the coaching staff,” said Lewis. “I’ve seen a lot of their practises and a lot of their games. The best thing about it is these kids have earned the right to be there. They’re not just the host; they’re the island champion.”
There is no way to determine if the Bantam Rep Kings are favoured or which of the opponents will cause the most trouble because, with the exception of Campbell River, they have not faced any other tournament hopefuls.
Hoppe said it will be hard to size up the other teams until the games start.
“I guess we’ll see after the first few minutes,” he said.
Welsh said there are no scouting reports and research about the other teams will have to be done as the tournament goes on.
“It’s tough for bantam hockey,” he said. “When the tournament starts, we’ll just be watching and go from there.”