The Spokane Braves surprised a few people, maybe even themselves, by making it to the second round of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs last season.
That won’t be the case this year.
The Braves open the hockey season Saturday night at Eagles Ice-A-Rena with a goal of winning the next Game 7 they get into.
“No one expected us to go as far as we did last year,” coach Mike Bay said. “The guys that are back are definitely on a mission.”
The Braves went 28-20-0-2 last season before taking Nelson to seven games in the Neil Murdoch Division finals. Nelson went on to lose in the KIJHL championship.
At least nine players return from that team.
“The guys that are back, this is probably the most excited, on-a-mission group I’ve had around,” Bay said.
Leading scorer Joel Stewart (57 points, 19 goals) is back for what Bay said should be a good offensive team. Three other players with at least 12 goals return – Rance Hughes, Nick Redding and Ryan Hadley-Schaal.
Stewart’s cousin Mitch Fowler, who was in the Spokane Chiefs’ camp, should add to the offensive firepower, along with two other rookies, Nick Farmer and Thomas McNevin, both 16.
A 20-year-old goalie from Alaska, Garrett Barr, has arrived to compete with Mckinlee Baum, who was 7-3 last year as a backup.
Zak Kroll and Brycen Fisher are the only veteran defensemen, but that didn’t dampen Bay’s optimism.
“Defensively we’re a little short,” he said. “(But) I expect big things out of us and I think our team does too.”