It could be a Wild West shootout of a season for the North Vancouver Wolf Pack as they begin their third year on the North Shore with a doublebarreled shotgun on their front line and an inexperienced crew on defence.
Both Spencer Quon and Marcus Houck will be back as first-line stars when the Pack begins regular season play in the Pacific Junior Hockey League Wednesday night in Aldergrove against the Kodiaks. The home opener for the junior B club will be against the Ridge Meadows Flames next Saturday, Sept. 14, starting at 7 p.m. at Harry Jerome arena.
Quon set the franchise record for points last season, tallying 13 goals and 52 assists for 65 points in 43 games to finish second in the league in points. Wolf Pack head coach and general manager Matt Samson is expecting the lanky 19-year-old centre with the calm and cool game to come close to or surpass those big numbers this year.
"It's obviously really big for us to have him back, he's a guy who can play at the next level whether that's the B.C. hockey league or college hockey," said Samson. "He's going to be a huge part of our team."
With last year's top goal scorer Quin Buckellew now off to Concordia College in his home state of Minnesota, the Pack will be looking to Quon to sprinkle a few more shots into his pass-happy game.
"He's a great passer but we're looking for him to score a little bit more this year," said Samson. "I think we're going to get him to shoot the puck a little bit more this year now that we don't have a guy like Buck."
Shooting or passing, Quon will have a talented counterpoint beside him in Houck, who tallied 25 goals and 32 assists for 57 points in 40 games last season, placing him sixth in the league in points.
"Their chemistry is great, you can just see the confidence," Samson said about his 1-2 punch. "As long as they stay healthy then there's no reason they shouldn't both be top-five scorers in the league. We're excited to have them back."
Returning captain Jamie Creamore is penciled in as the other winger on the first line with a mix of newcomers and returning players set to step into important roles in the supporting lines.
The story on defence is a lot different. The Pack is losing three of last year's top four, including standout Ben McWilliams who will be joining Buckellew at the NCAA Div. 3 school in Moorehead, Minn.
Spencer's twin brother Dyllan Quon is the only returning top-four blueliner and could be the only returning D-man period depending on how Jivan Sidhu fares at a junior A tryout in Saskatchewan.
Newcomers Troy Ring from North Vancouver Minor, Reecer Bartel who was a Wolf Pack affiliate last season and Connor Pasco who played for the powerhouse Vancouver Northwest Giants of the B.C. Major Midget League last season are some of the players who are expected to play big minutes in the team's revamped backline.
"There's definitely some good players there, it's just the new faces and getting everybody together and figuring out D partners and systems," said Samson. "We're not scrambling, we're just going to have a lot of new faces. Some good, young new faces."
In goal the Pack will either have one or two proven PJHL starters this season. Last year Braden Krogfoss and Anders Ten Vaanholt were 1A and 1B on the depth chart, splitting the work almost equally during the regular season with Krogfoss getting the call during the team's opening round playoff loss to the Delta Ice Hawks.
Krogfoss is off on a junior A tryout with the Coquitlam Express right now. If he ends up back in North Van, Samson will likely go with split duties again this year. If Krogfoss doesn't come back then Samson said he'll happily give the bulk of the work to Ten Vaanholt.
"If Krogger doesn't come back, we know Anders is capable and we're very confident to start the year with Anders as our No. 1," he said. "If Krogger comes back then it'll be a combination, who's hot, because they're both legitimate starters."
The Pack is coming off a season that saw them finish third in the tough Tom Shaw Conference and set a franchise record for points, but also saw them bounced in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year. Two perennial powerhouses - the Ice Hawks and the Richmond Sockeyes - have set up "
permanent residence at the top of the conference standings and Samson is hoping this is the year the Pack will muscle past at least one of them.
"We're going to have to look at taking over one of those two teams," he said.
It's not going to be easy, we've got to come to work every day. You've got to try to improve every year and so in order to do that, that's the challenge that we face - getting ahead of those guys."
Samson is happy that the team has improved its win total each year since moving to North Vancouver from Squamish before the 2011-12 season but he admitted that at some point that improvement needs to translate into bigger things.
"At some point I hope we get to the point where we can't improve because we've won the league and we've won B.C. and we've won the Westerns," he said. "You know, it's one step at a time but this year I'm really excited about the group that we have. If everyone buys in and we keep working and we keep improving, this could be the year for us."
© Copyright 2013