The upcoming 2016-17 Western Hockey League season will be a year of transition for the Chiefs, starting from the very top of the organization. After 26 years as the team's general manager, Tim Speltz stepped down in the off season, taking a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The club named Scott Carter as their new general manager in early September as he will oversee a club that will see a number of new faces on the roster this season. With the team coming off a 6 game playoff loss to the WHL's top team in the regular season in Victoria this past year, the Chiefs are hoping the new faces will join the nucleus of returning players to help the team move up in the U.S. Division standings.
Spokane will welcome back leading scorer Kailer Yamamoto, who enters his draft year as one of the top forwards in the league. Three 20 year old forwards remain on the roster going into the season opener Saturday at Tri City, and with fellow over ager, goalie Jayden Sittler, assured a spot on the squad, one of the three will have to depart by October 10th. Kailer's older brother Keanu, Markson Bechtold, and Dominic Zwerger will fight it out for the final 2 twenty year old spots, with Zwerger the most likely to depart in the fact he not only takes one of the 20 spots, but also one of the two European import slots. The Chiefs drafted two players from the Czech Republic in the import draft in Pavel Kousal and Ondrej Najman. I highly doubt the team is going to send out an 18 year old import to keep a 20 year old. The most sense would be to trade Zwerger to get a future pick(s) in the bantam draft. It will be interesting to see what transpires.
Hudson Elyniuk and Curtis Miske return for their third seasons with the club, and much will be expected out of both of them offensively if the team hopes to improve their standing in the U.S. Second year forwards Ethan McIndoe, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Taylor Ross and Hayden Ostir will be counted on to take the next step in their development and add consistency to their games. Joining the two new imports up front will be rookies Jake McGrew, Riley McKay, Logan Foster and Koby Morrisseau. Morrisseau is still recovering from a hit he took in the exhibition's opening weekend in the Everett tournament, so his status is up in the air. The other three will have an opportunity to prove their worth early and unseat a veteran returner on the roster. The competition for playing time will be fierce, which will certainly help the club in the long run.
The defense on the other hand will be veteran laden, led by Tyson Helgesen, who played alongside departed captain Jason Fram. Evan Fiala, Dalton Hamaliuk, Jordan Henderson, Jeff Faith and Jake Toporowski all return to give the team a lot of experience on the back end. In saying that though, the returners will now step up into more advanced roles and will be counted upon to carry the team early. Former #1 bantam pick Ty Smith joins the team for his first full year with the team and looks more than ready to play major minutes on the blue line. Rookies Matt Leduc and Trent Huitema will probably fight for the final spot on the defense.
After being acquired in an off season deal with Lethbridge, Sittler will be the man in net, with Matt Berlin serving as the back up. Sittler will be counted on a great deal early, as the youngsters find their skates. Berlin started last season as the back up but fizzled and it's hoped he will show the form he showed in pre-season to help between the pipes. Last year's starter Tyson Verhelst retired in the off season, and backup Lasse Petersen was dealt to Everett.
Coach Don Nachbaur is back for his 7th season behind the bench, and will once again have a young club to mold. Whereas in the past 4-5 years, it's been a cycle of young clubs that was limited in high end skill, this year's team will show an improvement in that area. It will have to try and contend in a veryyy competitive U.S. Division that will see defending West champ Seattle, Everett, Portland and Tri City all very tightly bunched with the Chiefs. Spokane will get a chance to see what type of club they have when they embark on their almost 2 week journey through the East Division in late October. That trip will prove to be a team bonding experience as well as a great test against some of the expected top teams in the league in defending champ Brandon, Regina and Moose Jaw. The team will start their season this Saturday against arch rival Tri City down in Kennewick. I'll have the call once again on 1510 KGA with the pre-game at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:05pm. A new season is here, and I look forward to recapping every week of it for you here on KREM.com. We'll see you at the rink!
Mike Boyle "The Voice of the Chiefs"