BCHL News & Trades:
Vanderbeck Returns To Wild For 2017-18 Season:
It only took three minutes at the start of last season for AJ Vanderbeck to make his mark with his new team in Wenatchee. Now, after wrapping up the season with 39 goals, he is preparing to return to Wenatchee for the 2017-18 season. The hard-shooting winger was beginning his third year of junior hockey, and doing it in his third different league with his third different team. At the 3:00 minute mark of the first period in Prince George, Vanderbeck snapped home a wrister from the slot, set up by Brian Williams. Vanderbeck would go on to score 39 goals on the year, rocketing past the old franchise record of 32 set by Jono Davis in the 2012-13 season. He would also score the “Teddy Bear Toss” goal in December, and he assisted linemate Jimmy O’Brien on the final goal of the regular season as well. One of his personal highlights of his season was a four-goal night during a 6-3 win at Surrey on Jan. 5, 2017. As a youth, he played close to home initially, skating for the Colorado Rampage Bantam AAA, U16, and U18 teams. His first taste of playing away from home was in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex with the Lone Star Brahmas of the NAHL in 2014-15. The following season he skated in the USHL with Sioux Falls before choosing Wenatchee last season. Now, he is ready to return to the Wild for another season along with a handful of teammates from last season’s Boileau Memorial Trophy winning team. “AJ is a kid who shoots it a ton”, says Head Coach / GM Bliss Littler. “He has a pro caliber shot, and he’s not afraid to use it. His first thought is always to shoot, and usually it’s his second and third option too”, he jokes. “He’s worked hard to grow the rest of his game, and he’s quickly becoming a well-rounded, elite player.”
Ward, Regush, Risteau & Metsa Leaving Cenntenials For USHL:
Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin confirmed news that some of the Cents best performers from 2016-17 will be moving on to USHL teams for the coming year. The news doesn't come as a surprise as the players were drafted high in this spring's USHL draft. Forwards Tyler Ward, Michael Regush, Zach Risteau, and defenseman Zach Metsa won't be donning the red and black next season. Martin says that throughout the summer his staff has been hoping for the best, and preparing for the worst. "Two of the four we held out a little bit longer to see where they were at, but we made roster decisions like they were gone." All told they combined for 57 goals, 86 assists, and 143 points, but Martin says that this is an opportunity for new and returning players to step in and fill the void. "What it does is provide other players an opportunity that maybe they wouldn't have been provided because other players that have proved it in the past are leaving. So it's up for grabs." The first goals will be scored when the Penticton Vees come to the Nicola Valley Memorial arena on September 8th for the season opener.
Trail Smoke Eaters Announce New Mascot:
Wild Name Mendelson New Associate Head Coach/Recruiting Coordinator:
The Wenatchee Wild, proud members of the British Columbia Hockey League, are pleased to welcome Leigh Mendelson who joins the franchise as Associate Head Coach / Recruiting Coordinator. He will look to fill the void left by Associate Head Coach Tom Rudrud who has stepped away to handle family matters at home. Mendelson, a native of Caldwall, NJ joins the Wild after spending the previous three seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska – Omaha. His coaching career is considerable, with 10 seasons of experience at the junior level in both the NAHL and USHL. Add in four seasons of pro experience in the ECHL and AHL, and three seasons in Europe to go along with his three years of Division I college. The opportunity to come to Wenatchee was too enticing to pass up. “The opportunity to work with such an accomplished coach as Bliss (Littler) is not one that comes along every day, and I’m looking forward to getting to work with him and his staff on a daily basis.” Mendelson recognizes the challenge of trying to follow Rudrud. “It’s not going to be easy to fill Tom Rudrud’s shoes; he is such a great hockey man”, Mendelson admits. “But it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to continue my career.” He adds, “Tommy has always been one of my favorite people in the game.” For Rudrud, who has coached alongside Littler for 13 of the last 17 seasons, the experience in Wenatchee was a fulfilling one. “I’m gonna miss it”, he confessed. “It’s been a great ride here, and I’ll look forward to watching as the Wild continue to grow.” Head Coach / GM Bliss Littler says, “We will miss Tom for sure. He has his finger prints all over any success we have had over the years”. He concludes, “I can say without a doubt he is one of the best in the business.” Looking ahead to the arrival of Mendelson, Littler notes, “Leigh gives us a very experienced hockey man that has been in the business a long time. He’s a talented and tireless recruiter that has a reputation of having helped develop many NHL caliber players.” Littler adds, “We look forward to the energy and enthusiasm that Leigh will bring to our organization.” In his service with the Wild, Mendelson will be called on to work primarily with the defensemen in addition to recruiting. Over his coaching career he has helped develop numerous NHL defensemen, including David Hale, Rostislav Klesla, Keith Ballard, Justin Braun, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jared Cowen, Patrick Wiercioch, and Eric Gryba. Another addition to the Wild staff is Tyler Alos who joins the club as Assistant Coach in a limited support role, helping on game days with video and analytics. He will join on the bench on occasions that find Mendelson or Chris Clark on the road recruiting. Alos was enjoying a solid career that was ultimately shortened by injury while playing Major Juniors with the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL). He remained in Seattle for the last four seasons as an Assistant Coach with the T-Birds. The team has also bestowed a promotion on Assistant Coach Chris Clark, who now adds Assistant GM to his job title. “Clarky is the engine that drives this machine”, Littler states emphatically. “He does more behind the scenes than anyone could ever begin to realize. He has earned this, 100 percent.” Season ticket packages are on sale now at the Wild office by calling 509-888-7825. Single game tickets and group packages will be available soon. Plans are also underway for select fan bus trips this season and will be announced soon. The Wenatchee Wild are celebrating their tenth season in the Valley.
George Preston Arena Under Renovations:
The George Preston arena in Langley is getting some renovations over the off season, upgrading the sound system & adding speakers in the lobby.
The Merritt Centennials announced today that 18-year-old defenseman Joey Berkopec has been acquired from the Burlington Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League for future considerations. “We expect Joey to be a significant piece on our blueline this season,” said Centennials General Manager and Head Coach Joe Martin. “He is a solid, two-way defender who should excel in the BC Hockey League.” Berkopec is entering his second season of junior hockey. The Oakville, Ontario product played 48 games for Burlington in 2016-17, putting up four assists and 40 penalty minutes. He went pointless in ten playoff games for the Cougars. He was named to Team OJHL Oates at the 2016 Eastern Canada Cup All-Star Challenge. Last fall, Berkopec was also named to the NHL Central Scouting Players to Watch List for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Within Central Scouting’s ranking system, he earned a ‘C’ rating. The 6’1″, 190 lb. defenseman came out of the Oakville Rangers Midget AAA program in 2015-16, having played the 2014-15 minor midget season as a member of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens AAA. In two midget seasons, Berkopec finished with 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 60 games. He also got into two OJHL games with his hometown Oakville Blades in 2015-16 as an affiliate player. Berkopec was also selected by Owen Sound in the 9th round, 178th overall of the 2015 OHL Priority Selection Draft.
The Penticton Vees were Keane to add some more veteran presence to their lineup. On Tuesday, the BCHL team did just that, acquiring 20-year-old forward Jackson Keane from the Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. The three-way trade saw 19-year-old forward Turner Ripplinger shipped to the MJHL’s Portage Terriers. The son of former long-time NHL forward Mike Keane played the last two seasons in the USHL after playing two seasons with the Blues in his hometown of Winnipeg. “(Keane) is a player that has produced in the past and our hope is that when put in the right situation, he will do so again,” said Vees president, GM and head coach Fred Harbinson. “He has big game experience which we saw last year was critical in our long playoff run.” Keane, bound for University of North Dakota in 2018-19, was captain of a Sioux City team that won the regular season title before falling in the deciding game in overtime to the Chicago Steel in the USHL championship series. A five-foot-nine, 160-pounder who can play centre and the wing, Keane had 11 goals and 25 points in 76 regular season games in two seasons with Sioux City. He added a goal and three points in 13 playoff games last season. With Winnipeg, Keane was more prolific offensively with 36 goals and 99 points in 103 games. He also played with former Vees stars Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro for Team Canada West at the 2014-15 World Junior A Challenge. Ripplinger, 19, logged three goals and nine points in 45 regular-season games for Penticton. The right-winger for Regina added three assists in 13 playoff games. “Moving Turner was necessary to add Jackson, who brings a different dynamic to our team; we wish Turner the best of luck and thank him for his part in our championship run last season,” said Harbinson. Ripplinger will be re-united with another former Vees forward – Ty Barnstable – in Portage. Harbinson said the Vees have 12 forwards, eight defencemen and two goalies signed, and have one forward position still up for grabs on their 23-man roster. Penticton also has two 20-year-old spots and an import spot open. Keane joins forwards Chris Klack and Owen Sillinger and defenceman Joe Leahy as the only 20-year-olds on the team. “We’ve got lots of flexibility so we can be patient and not be cornered into making a certain move,” said Harbinson. “Something could emerge for us out of training camp. There is no rush whatsoever to do anything.” He said a smaller roster offers more opportunities for the Vees younger players to log bigger minutes. “It’s still a work in progress but we’re in pretty good shape for this time of the season,” said Harbinson.
Demin Returning To Wenatchee Wild For 2017-18 Season:
When Slava Demin first arrived in Wenatchee at the beginning of last season, he was the youngest player on the team. Now, he’s set to come back as a second-year defenseman with his college plans secured, and focused on two things: growing his game, and winning. After committing to Wenatchee last summer, Demin went on to participate in the Five Nations Tournament hosted in Frisco, TX in August. By Christmas, he had committed to play Division I college hockey in Denver beginning in the 2018-19 season. The 6’1”, 185 lb. Demin had a busy summer, and fielded multiple offers for the coming season but ultimately chose to return. “I think that the biggest reason for me coming back was the fact that I would get to play with guys that I built relationships with in a league that I feel I can develop in”, he admits. “I am also really excited to come back and learn under the great coaching staff that we have in Wenatchee that I feel will push me to become a better player and person. Lastly, I can’t not talk about coming back and getting to play in the Town Toyota Center in front of all the fans for one more year, it’s going to be a really fun year.” As the summer winds down, Demin has the opportunity to once again compete on the international stage, having been selected to represent the USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Břeclav, CZE. “I think that it is obviously an honor whenever you get to represent your country, especially in international tournaments”, Demin said. “I believe we have a great chance to win a gold medal over in Europe.” Last year’s experience at the Five Nations event has helped him prepare. “Being selected to the Five Nations team last year helped me understand what it means to play for your county and now I get to do it again. I am looking forward to an amazing experience with a lot of great memories over there as well as making lifelong friendships with the other guys on the team.” Team USA begins pool play on August 7 against Sweden. When he and his Wild teammates report to Wenatchee on August 21, he will arrive now as a veteran and a leader with high expectations for himself and his team. “As far as the team, I believe that our expectations should be as high as ever. Last year we proved that we can be the best team when we are on our game and that should be the standard for the future of the Wenatchee Wild.” He continues, “I think we will come into this season with a new, young roster that I think will excite the fans but also play hard and fast.” Turning the focus inward for a moment, he notes, “As far as my game is concerned, I am just looking to improve as a player and person. I think that I had a really good first year last year and now have the opportunity to player a bigger role on the team. I am just super excited to come back and see how much the team and I can improve over the course of next season.”