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North Van Wolf Pack ready to celebrate 15 years by honouring alumni

The team is set to unveil a board listing every single player and staff member in their history at a game Jan. 28 at Harry Jerome Arena
Lucas Barker of the North Van Wolf Pack slides a pass to Justin Lee in a PJHL playoff game against the Grandview Steelers in 2019. The Pack went on to win the PJHL title that year. The team will honour all of the alumni in their 15-year history at a game on Saturday, Jan. 28. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

The North Van Wolf Pack will honour all of their alumni at a game Saturday, Jan. 28, and they’re hoping that connections made then will help restore some team glory that was lost during the trying times of the COVID cancellations.

The PJHL junior B team is planning to unveil a board listing every single staff member and player who was with the team for at least 10 games since its formation 15 years ago. All in all, there will be hundreds of names going up on the wall, and the club is hoping that many of them will be in attendance to enjoy the alumni atmosphere.

“We’d like to honour them and give them a chance to kind of rekindle some of those connections,” said team GM and CEO Dean Samson. “It’s kind of interesting for me to look through the names and go, ‘Holy smoke – I remember how important this kid was to the team, or what a nice kid this was, or how much the parents helped.’ From my point of view, you just go from one season to the next and you kind of forget it.”

The upcoming alumni game, however, will be a chance to remember it all. Samson has been there from the start, founding the team in 2008 in Squamish with his son Matt Samson, who served as coach and GM.

There were some rough patches as they got going in Squamish – “we didn’t really know what we were doing,” Dean Samson joked – but the community supported the team well.

“The fans there were good. They were really good,” Samson said. “You got that small town feel there where they really supported junior hockey.”

But a number of factors – including a lack of big-name sponsors in Squamish as well as the difficulty of travel up the old Sea to Sky Highway – forced the team to move to North Vancouver in 2011. It was tough to say goodbye to Squamish, said Samson, but the Wolf Pack really took off once they set up shop on the North Shore. Their point total went up every year after the move until they scored a league regular season title and playoff championship in the 2014-15 season. The team won the league and playoff championship double again in the 2018-19 season, and they set a new standard for the league in 2019-20 when they won 40 of their 44 regular season games, a new PJHL record that will be very hard to break.

But their dream season ended abruptly when the COVID-19 crisis hit, cancelling the 2020 playoffs. Subsequent seasons were filled with stops and starts and cancellations, and it’s been a struggle to get the program back to those lofty heights.

“Every year it’s a little bit harder, especially after COVID, because we lost some continuity with the veteran players because they had aged out with no real season,” said Samson. “We had to kind of restart that culture again.”

Part of that change included the departure of Matt Samson as head coach and GM. He still plays a role in the operation of the club, but his main focus now is as the general manager of the Vancouver North West Hawks BCEHL program, and head coach of that club’s U18 AAA team. Michael Borrelli, a Wolf Pack assistant coach last year, bumped up to the head coaching role this season.

A low point in the history of the franchise came at the start of this year when the team lost 10 of their first 11 games, said Dean Samson.

“The hardest part the whole time was the start of this year, because we were so used to winning,” he said. “That was really hard.”

But the team has turned it around since then and now holds a winning record of 20-16-2-1 (wins, losses, overtime losses, shootout losses) and are challenging for a playoff spot, quite a feat considering the start they had.

Alumni members who are expected to be in attendance Jan. 28 include Garrett Woodside, the first captain following the move to North Van, as well as Lucas Barker, the captain of the team that put together the record-setting 40-win season. Nathan Haaksma will also be there, another member of the 40-win team who is now an assistant coach with the club.

Samson noted several other impact players over the years, including twins Dylan and Spencer Quon – Spencer still holds the club record for career points – and Dominic Davis, who set the team record for goals in a season with 42. Samson, in fact, reeled off a long list of memorable players over the years, far too long to print. But he’s hoping to see many of them in person at the alumni game.

The game against the Langley Trappers is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 28, at 6:45 p.m. at Harry Jerome Arena.

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