The Richmond Sockeyes will celebrate their championship season on Thursday night with likely more players from that team in the stands than on the ice.
The 41-year-old franchise will unveil their latest collection of banners and trophies when it opens the Pacific International Junior Hockey League regular season against the Abbotsford Pilots at Minoru Arena (7:30 p.m.).
The Sockeyes capped a dominant campaign last April by capturing the Keystone Cup in Manitoba - marking the second time in five years they were crowned Western
Canadian champions. The 2013-14 edition currently features just seven returnees from that team thanks to graduation and players moving on to higher tiers of junior hockey.
High scoring forwards Dean Allison (Vernon), Daniell Lange (Coquitlam) and Danton Heinen (Surrey) have all earned roster spots in the B.C. Hockey League. Throw in departed 21-year-olds Sam Chichak, Jeremy Hamaguchi, Rudi Thorsteinson, Stephen Campbell and Jake Roder, leaving local product Daniel Tait as the only returning player of their top nine scorers.
Yet don't feel sorry for this PIJHL juggernaut. It attracts top incoming talent simply for its success and track record of developing players. This year is no exception.
"It's probably the biggest turnover of players since I have been here but to be quite honest I like what we got here," said longtime Sockeyes general manager Richard Petrowsky. "I don't see any reason why we can't contend."
Heading the class of 2013 recruits is 16-year-old John Wesley who led the Delta Wild Academy team in scoring last season and to a second place finish at the Richmond Midget International Tournament. Forward Jacob Wozney and defenceman Nicholas Patey played for the Major Midget Greater Vancouver Canadians last season while 18-yearold - Mac Colasimone - landed with the Sockeyes from Ontario Midget AAA and through word of mouth.
"His father got his job transferred out here and happened to be staying at the same hotel Daniell Lange's mom worked at," explained Petrowsky. "She told them to play for the Sockeyes."
The entire organization breathed a sigh of relief when Judd Lambert decided to return behind the bench to replace the departed Aaron Wilbur. Lambert initially left at the end of the 2011-12 season to spend more time with his young family but has apparently made a minimum two-year commitment to the club for his second go around. The former standout goalie guided the Sockeyes to their 2009 Keystone Cup win.
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