Castlegar Rebels mid-season report
The Castlegar Rebels finished second in the Neil Murdoch division last season and second overall in the KIJHL. This year the Rebels are once again second in their division and third overall in the league.
That consistency points to the strength in the organization and leadership of coach and general manager Steve Junker.
Junker came on board in 2010 and finished off his first season with a run to the KIJHL championship series. The next year (2011-12) the Rebels were once again near the top of the league, finishing behind only Beaver Valley in both the division and the KIJHL.
With a high-powered offense led by veteran players Scott Morriseau, Anthony Delong, Anthony Robinson, and Stuart Walton, the Rebs cruised past Nelson in the first round of last year's play-offs.
Unfortunately, Castlegar ran into the powerful Beaver Valley Nitehawks, the top ranked team in the KIJHL, in the second round. The Rebels gave the 'hawks all they could handle, forcing a deciding game seven in Fruitvale after being down 3-1 in the series.
But BV was too much, beating Castlegar 5-3 in game seven in a packed Fruitvale arena.
With the graduation of Morriseau, Delong and Robinson, the 2012-13 version of the Castlegar Rebels would look a little different. Scoring would have to come from new sources.
Walton, the top returning scorer, started slowly but has found his groove and leads the Rebs with 41 points in 31 games at press time. Last year's captain Erik Alden is back to lead the defensive core and continues to be a solid two-way defenceman.
The Rebels' goaltending has been pretty strong all season with Connor Gluck and Connor Beauchamp both back from last year. Gluck was acquired at mid-season last year in a trade that saw 2011 play-off hero Alex Ross depart.
At the start of 2012-13, it looked like the Neil Murdoch division would be a three way race between Castlegar, Nelson and Beaver Valley.
The Nelson Leafs, however, have pulled away early and taken control of the top spot in not only the division but the whole KIJHL.
The Rebels, meanwhile, have stayed pretty consistently five or six points back of the Leafs. The Nitehawks struggled early but have been on quite a roll lately, moving to within two points of Castlegar in the division standings.
Nelson recently lost top prospect Colton McCarthy, who has moved up to the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors. The Leafs still have one high scoring Colton left in Colton Schell who leads the team and the KIJHL with 51 points in 32 games, and rookie goalie sensation Brett Soles (13 wins and 2.14 goals against average in 15 games) so don't count them out.
In the rest of the KIJHL, Sicamous has started strong, leading the Okanagan/Shuswap conference with 46 points. North Okanagan and Golden are also having strong seasons in their respective divisions.
Jordan Salahor of Kelowna is second in league scoring with 50 points, while Golden's Connor Beauchemin is third with 45 points including 22 goals.
Rating by position:
Forward - B+ Walton, who is seventh in KIJHL scoring, has emerged as the Rebs' top scorer as expected. Veteran forward Diego Bartlett has stepped up his game and become a scoring threat this season. Jamie Vlanich, who returned to the Rebels this year after playing in Fernie for much of last year, gives the Rebs a third scoring option on the first line. Kody Disher and Brenden Heinrich are back from last year and add toughness to the Rebs' line-up. Newcomers Darren Medeiros and Bryan Lubin have played well in their first seasons as Rebels.
Defence B- Captain Alden leads the way on defence and is having another solid campaign. With Riley Ostoforoff and Aaron Brewer back, Castlegar has a pretty veteran blue line crew. American import Hunter Jenerou is a nice addition to the defence. He leads all Rebel d-men in scoring with 15 points in 32 games this year so far.
Goalie A- So far this year coach Junker has been content to platoon between Beauchamp and Gluck. Both are veterans in the league and could make arguments for the starting job. Beauchamp has a goals against average (GAA) of 2.37 and has won eight games out of 19. Strangely, he has picked up all five Rebel ties so far. Gluck is not far behind with a 2.45 GAA. He leads with 10 wins in 15 games. Beauchamp is third among the KIJHL's top goalies by GAA, while Gluck is sixth. The Rebs also have midget star Patrick Zubick in the wings.
In conclusion, there are lots of games to be played. The Rebels will have to keep improving and find different ways to score if they want to catch Nelson for first and hold off the surging Nitehawks.