By Richard McGuire
Special to the Chronicle
A young Osoyoos Coyotes team with a new young coach skated to a 5-1 victory over Summerland in their exhibition home-ice opener on Saturday night.
Mark Chase, 32, the new head coach and general manager, admits he got off to a late start in building a fresh, young team.
When he sat down for an interview Friday, less than three weeks after moving to Osoyoos, it was the first day he’d had time to take a leisurely walk by the lake to enjoy the scenery. Otherwise, it’s been non-stop work.
When Coyotes’ owner Randy Bedard chose in April not to renew the contract of former head coach and general manager Ken Law, it took until June for him to find and hire Chase, an assistant coach and director of sales and marketing with the Melville, Saskatchewan Millionaires, a junior A team.
Adding to the challenge, many veteran players from last year’s division-leading Coyotes, have moved on in their hockey careers.
“It’s been exciting, overwhelming at times,” said Chase. “There is quite the challenge in trying to build a team. Last year, I believe there were roughly 12 ’98s. We’ve only had two ’98s of those 12 return this year.”
The term “98” refers to the 1998 birth year of the players, meaning they have turned or are about to turn 20.
By contrast, the team is well represented by up-and-coming 16- and 17-year-olds, some of whom are brand new to the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL).
These younger players were very much on display Saturday night as the few veterans mostly cooled their heels, waiting for the regular season, which starts next Saturday, Sept. 8 when the Coyotes host the Kamloops Storm.
The new team also has strong local representation, bringing back a few who played last year, and adding some new ones.
Back are Seth Kriese, Levi Holz, Bryson Garska and Cole Rezka. Rezka, a defenceman, only played three games with the Coyotes last regular season. Garska, 16, played seven in the regular season and nine in the playoffs.
Joining them are Brandon Della Paolera, the younger brother of enforcer Evan. The younger Paolera is a talented goal scorer, says owner Bedard.
But the new local player to watch, if Saturday is any indication, may be Tyler Badger.
The 16-year-old is new to the league, but on Saturday he scored two goals, including one on a power play and one on an empty net while the Coyotes were shorthanded, and Summerland had pulled their goalie for an extra attacker.
And, he came within a whisker of a hat trick when just three minutes from the end of the game, he skated in unopposed and narrowly missed putting the puck in the top of the net.
The lopsided victory Saturday night followed a first exhibition game Thursday in Princeton, which the Coyotes lost 2-1, despite dominating play.
The problem, admits Chase, is that the Coyotes took 18 minutes in minor penalties in Princeton and although penalty killing was perfect, “you still can’t win a hockey game when you’re shorthanded for a whole period. It wears you down.”
The Coyotes outshot Princeton 28-15, just as they outshot Summerland 41-23 two nights later.
The high number of penalties last Thursday is the result of a young team, Chase suggests.
“I guess the best way to describe (Thursday) night’s exhibition game is there were moments of brilliance and then moments of immaturity,” he said.
A Monday afternoon game against Princeton in Osoyoos ended in a 3-3 tie.
Saturday’s game seemed at first to be following the same pattern as young Coyotes streamed in and out of the penalty box in the early part of the game.
Summerland opened the scoring early in the second period, but rookie Brax Klassen tied it for Osoyoos just before the period ended.
The tide shifted near the middle of the third period as suddenly it was Summerland taking most of the penalties and the Coyotes added goals by Badger and Kriese.
With Garska and Badger then both scoring empty-net goals, Summerland was all out of steam.
It’s still unclear which of four goalies the Coyotes will end up keeping.
Bailey Monteith, from Kamloops, and German Barahona, from Oliver, both played Thursday in Princeton.
Returning goalie Daniel Paul started in net Saturday, but halfway through the game, Robbie Paialunga, was given a chance in net.
Nor is it certain which veterans will be returning to the Coyotes. While some are committed, others, notably Sam Reinbolt and Nick Nordstrom, are currently trying out with Chase’s former junior A team in Melville.
“I wish them well in that endeavor,” said Chase. “If they are unsuccessful, then we will welcome them back here.”
But other “Terrace Coyotes,” Carter Shannon and Brandon Onstein, are definitely back, said Bedard.
Brock Marple, from Whitecourt, Alberta, will also be returning this year.
Bedard says Chase is a good fit as coach and he’ll bring a new coaching style emphasizing player development and strong communication.
“He’s demanding, but he’s fair,” said Bedard. “He’s going to work the players really hard.”
Brandon Watson is returning as assistant coach and will be joined by Dean Maynard, who has been heavily involved with local minor hockey.
But, with the exhibition games just started, it’s still early days.
“There are no guarantees that what you see tomorrow night (Saturday) in exhibition will be what you see Sept. 8 in our home opener,” said Chase.
And, the team that played Saturday will evolve considerably as the season progresses.
“You come back to us Jan. 1, let’s say, you will notice an entirely different team,” said Chase. “Because I am more than confident that these guys are going to progress by the fall. They are so young and are super committed.”