The rookie-laden Comox Valley Glacier Kings are experiencing a healthy dose of growing pains as they search for their first win of the 2018/19 Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League season. But despite the goose egg in the win column, the coach of the Junior B hockey team is optimistic about its immediate future.
“It is what it is” Jordan Kamprath said Wednesday of the 0-12 record. “I would say the beginning of the season is a lot different than what the games are looking like now.”
In the first three games, the team allowed 23 goals and scored just three times. But the gap’s been closing since opening day Sept. 6. In a road game Oct. 11, Yetis lost 3-2 to the Nanaimo Buccaneers, which Kamprath considers one of the top teams in the league. The following night, the team created multiple chances in a 4-1 home loss to the Oceanside Generals.
“We have a huge amount of rookies on the team. A lot of them, they’re gripping the stick a little bit too tight, and not making the right opportunities when they should have. But practices are going better and better, and the team is getting better as well.”
Kamprath took over the helm this season from Jordan Butcher, under whom he was assistant coach last year. Before entering the world of coaching, Kamprath had captained the Glacier Kings in 2012 — during Butcher’s first stint behind the bench.
“It’s nice to be part of the community again,” said Kamprath, a Courtenay resident who grew up in Alberta. “I love the community. I’ve been here for nine years now. I’m looking to get the name of the Glacier Kings back out there.”
Following some negative experiences with coaches during the latter part of juniors, Kamprath went straight from hockey into coaching.
“I try to convey my love for the game to players, and hopefully they don’t have the experiences that I had. I’d love for players to continue playing, instead of stopping. If I can make a player feel like they want to keep playing, that’s a job successful…Unfortunately, politics are part of the game.”
Finn Withey, last year’s team MVP and top forward, has returned to the Glacier Kings after a stint last season as an affiliate player (AP) with the Junior A Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League. The 19-year-old leads the Yetis this season with eight points in eight games.
“He tried out with them (Grizzlies) again this year, he’s still APing with them, but they decided not to card him this year,” Kamprath said. “We are looking for possibly a Junior A spot for him elsewhere. But he’s currently our team captain. He’s a leader both on and off the ice, and in the gym.”
In goal, the Kings are backstopped by Braedyn Funke and rookie Matthias Smith. For the first time, Kamprath gave Smith back-to-back starts, but he sustained an injury the last game.
“Braedyn came in and he played great. I think Braedyn is a great leader for Matt. He’s exactly the type of kid that I want around this team. If he wasn’t a goalie, I would see him having a letter on his jersey.”
A rebuild inevitably involves making some moves, be it releasing or bringing in players. Most of those brought in are rookies. But Kamprath notes that even the veterans on the team are relatively young.
“The only real veteran on the team is (defender) Dayton Keith. He’s one of the two 20-year-olds on the team. You look at other teams, they have four, five, six 20-year-olds. That mentality is completely different. If we were to take away two of our younger players and put in two 20-year-olds, just in mentality alone, it’s a different world. They’re just older.”
As a player, Kamprath recalls the night-and-day difference between 16 and 20, in terms of physical strength and mindset. After a couple of years of junior hockey, a two-goal deficit was no longer an insurmountable hurdle.
“We are progressing upwards at a very steep rate, and it’s awesome to see,” he said. “We might lose five, six players next year, but the main core of players will most likely be coming back. And then we have 18 veterans on the team. That’s gigantic. The only way to rebuild is to go through growing pains.”
Despite the losing record, Kamprath said the team spirit is high.
“The players, they work right until the end of the game every single time. They’re super happy with one another. They’re a good band of brothers off the ice and on the ice.”
The Glacier Kings play the Cougars tonight in Victoria. They host the Panthers at home Saturday.