FOR the first time since 1981 North Vancouver will have a junior hockey team.
The junior B Squamish Wolfpack of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League (PIJHL) will be relocating to North Vancouver this fall. Their home rink will be at the Harry Jerome recreation centre. The only other junior hockey team in North Shore history was the Nor-Wes Cap who played in North Vancouver from 197681.
The Wolfpack are a relatively new franchise in the PIJHL, having only been in the league for three seasons. After an unsuccessful year last season head coach and general manager Matt Samson realized that the franchise needed new scenery.
"Last year we were losing our fan base and sponsorship," he said. "The writing was on the wall by Christmas time. We either had to initiate a move or that was it. We weren't going to survive another year in Squamish."
The move to North Vancouver will help solve what has been one of the biggest detriments to the Wolfpack's success: recruitment.
"More kids will come if you are in North Van," Samson said. "If you look at the league, Squamish was the one place that was out in left field. It was tough for us to recruit the high-end kids that we wanted."
The Wolfpack's inaugural year in the PIJHL in 200809 was naturally difficult. The team finished the season 1430-4, and was second last in the league standings. In 2009-10 the Wolfpack didn't statistically improve much but Samson felt that the organization was turning the corner.
"In our second year we made some really good steps towards building the team. We had a really, really talented team," he said. "A lot of the players that were on that roster are now playing junior A or college, but we just didn't quite get over the hump."
The following year the Wolfpack struggled profusely.
They won six games all season.
"It was a huge step backwards in a lot of directions and it just couldn't continue," Samson said. "Thankfully North Vancouver Minor Hockey approached us and they said they would do all they could to help facilitate the move, and they were instrumental in getting things done."
The relocation has already helped the Wolfpack with recruitment and has Samson excited about the upcoming season.
"With some of the players we have been able to recruit and sign already and with some of the players we have coming back from last year we will be more (competitive)," said Samson. "The guys that got their feet wet last year are now going to be able to step up and be more impact players for us."
The Wolfpack will be playing in a new location but Samson said he plans on keeping the same management and coaching philosophy. He explained that there is a stigma attached to junior B hockey; that it is a league for older guys who didn't get a chance, or weren't able to make the jump up to the next level. Samson doesn't believe this is true any longer, and that mentality is in opposition to how he wants the Wolfpack to be run.
"As a coach I don't want to have a kid at 17 and then have him until he is 20. If that happens we as coaches, and as an organization, haven't done our job in terms of developing a player," he said. "I would like to have a kid for a maximum of two years, and then get him on and moved up. We can't do that with every kid, but that is certainly the goal."
Training camp for the Wolfpack opens August 24. During the season their home games will be played Friday nights at 5 p.m. at Harry Jerome. Their home opener is September 24.