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Players ready to meet challenges

Format changes may please teams more than fans

Prior to the release of the BC Hockey League (BCHL)schedule there were rumours that some start times for games might not be fan friendly and therefore detrimental to the bottom line of Powell River Kings.

Fortunately, rumoured 5 pm Saturday games are not on the schedule, but there are six dates where, after Saturday night’s game, the same two teams go at it again on Sunday starting at 1:30 pm.

This format, meant to give visiting teams chance to arrive home after game day, has always been a challenge to sell but it’s hoped that, with a little bit of creativity, such as family packs, fans will turn out to support the Kings.

Striving for balance, each team in the Coastal Conference will play the other seven times with an eighth game against three of the teams. Kings drew Coquitlam, Victoria and Nanaimo for their extra game.

One of the changes tried before, that was popular with the teams but not the fans, is the half-interlocking schedule between the two conferences.

The schedule indicates that the four teams to make the trip to Powell River are Prince George, Westside, Trail and Vernon while the Kings will make two separate trips for a pair of games to the Interior, first to Merritt and Chilliwack on October 13 and 15, then to Penticton and Salmon Arm on December 17 and 18.

Other highlights of the schedule include the opening weekend on Friday, September 23 and Saturday, September 24 against former Kings’ coach Mike Vandekamp and Nanaimo Clippers, a New Year’s game versus Alberni Bulldogs and a rematch against nemesis Vernon Vipers on February 25.

This year the league is experimenting with a playoff format that will see just four teams from each conference make the playoffs, so every game is a big one.

“As a coach,” said Kings’ assistant coach Chad van Diemen, “the pressure is on. It’s going to make for a pretty entertaining year,” particularly, as he point out, because each year “there are some teams that are just not in it from Christmas on.

“The league wants to limit player movement but with this formula come January 10 [final trade deadline] there’s going to be a fire sale.”

Kings countered the anticipated marketing challenges with a few announcements that will bring smiles to the faces of many fans.

Funded by First Credit Union, there will be a centre ice time clock installed at Hap Parker Arena complete with shot counters.

The second piece of good news, which will please those with bad backs, is the installation of seats in the four bleacher sections.

Three other improvements are in the advanced planning stages, which include a mezzanine at the south end of the arena and, in cooperation with some high school programs, modifications to the broadcast areas with the addition of some boxes.

The improvements to the facility will benefit the community as a whole and are largely made possible by funds from Powell River Community Forest Ltd.

On the ice, team officials are once again touting the returning players to the Kings’ lineup this year.

Their confidence is buoyed by the most recent commitment of defenceman Jon Jutzi to Minnesota State Mavericks.

“It’s pretty nice to get it sorted during the summer before the season started,” he said of his future. “In the playoffs I played fairly well, and I got a lot of interest from schools who maybe put the heat on so they could get their 2012 spots locked up.”

With training camp one month away Jutzi is excited to start another BCHL season.

“We’re going to be deep again,” he said of the defensive corps, “and hopefully we can get the job done this year.”

Kings Scroll:

Broadcaster Fraser Rodgers has left the Kings to do play-by-play for the Penticton Vees of the Interior Conference.

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