Itís been a long, hot summer but the boys and girls are back ó recreational hockey in Whistler has once again begun.
Unfortunately, the Menís A League hasnít begun as smoothly as league commissioner Ian Pike would have liked. As of the start of the season, the A League now consists of four teams, down from five. How this will affect the A League season remains to be seen, as Pike will be working on forming a fifth squad or presenting an A vs. Rec League exhibition schedule.
The league winners for the past four years, the Amsterdam Icemen, have now merged with longtime A-League stalwarts Merlins to form the Icemen Hockey Club, precipitating the change. During the offseason, team reps Jamie Brandon of the Icemen and Sandy Tyler for Merlins decided that the best course of action for their dwindling team rosters was to combine the remaining players from their respective teams into one Ďsuperí team ó much to the chagrin of commissioner Pike.
The void has created additional work for Pike and will require some creative schedule-juggling, in either forming a new, fifth team, or presenting a friendly interleague series.
It will be interesting to see how the A League manages with four teams, and if the proposed exhibition series being tabled by commissioner Pike will see life. As an alternate strategy, the concept of an A/Rec League merger has been discussed for next season. However, there would be many more obstacles to overcome in that scenario, including the willingness of Rec League teams to allow four other squads into the circuit and accept subsequent tier system in order to keep the competition honest.
Other changes in the A League include the reforming of the Longhorn Outlaws from years past. Once a regular in the A League of yore, the Outlaws folded a decade ago but are now the new Longhorn Outlaws HC, having taken over the struggling Tommy Africaís Devils franchise of last season.
Despite the challenges facing the A League, hockey has gotten underway, and ó surprise ó the Icemen are sitting atop the league standings after three games at 3-0.
In their Sunday (Oct. 14) outing, the Icemen defeated the Mongolie Grillers 7-2. The Grillers had a skeleton crew with only seven players on the roster; captain Chris Miron was absent from the lineup and several other key players were missing due to injuries.
The Grillers did their best to stay in the game but got off to a slow start, giving up five goals through two periods before netting a pair in the third. Iceman Reid Johnston potted six points in the game with four goals and two helpers. Goaltender Roman Zabilka faced 33 shots in the win. The Icemen next face the Outlaws on Saturday (Oct. 20) at 8:15 p.m.
Later Sunday, the Tapleyís Winterhawks defeated the Outlaws 3-2 in a see-saw battle. The Winterhawks started the scoring with a first-period goal from Matt Callaghan on a two-on-one. The Outlaws answered shortly after with a one-timer goal from defenceman John Hill to tie the game 1-1 after one. The second period saw the Outlaws take the lead with an early goal, only to give one up late in the frame when Kirk Patterson of the Winterhawks scored on a partial breakaway, crashing into the end boards on the play without injury.
The Winterhawks capitalized on their hard work and tenacity in the dying minutes of the third when Patterson once again beat Outlaws goalie Quint Galeza on a tap-in goal from the crease, thanks to a well-placed pass from Jay Van Zella. Pulling Galeza for the extra man late, the Outlaws forwards peppered Winterhawks goalie Blake Durell with five tricky shots in the final 10 seconds, the last of which grazed the post.
The Winterhawks earned their first victory of the season, with Durell making 25 saves for the win.