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Wolf Pack set to prowl

New North Van Jr. B team starts season Saturday

THE distance from Squamish to North Vancouver is not very far in our age of modern transportation but the organizers of the Wolf Pack Junior B hockey team are hoping there's a world of difference for their club.

Known as the Squamish Wolf Pack for their first three seasons in the Pacific International Junior Hockey League, the team made the trip down Highway 99 this season and set up shop in Harry Jerome Arena, becoming the North Van Wolf Pack and bringing junior hockey to the North Shore for the first time since 1981.

Their last season in Squamish was a struggle in a number ways - recruiting was tough, fans and sponsors were scarce, the arena had issues, the team lost all the time - but when the puck drops on their new season next Saturday night at Harry Jerome, the Wolf Pack will be looking to make the North Shore proud.

"It's really been rejuvenating," assistant general manager and coach Phil Kinninmont said of the move. "Last year was kind of a 'just get through the year, grin and bear it' kind of year. . . . Unfortunately we were out of the playoffs by about mid-November. It's kind of tough to put a smiley face on that but we worked hard."

It might take a while for the team to come together - more than half the players are new this season - but when they do they should blow away their 6364 record from last year, said Kinninmont.

"I'm very, very optimistic about the season," he said. "I don't want to sit here and say we're going to make the playoffs - I don't want to set the bar so low. I'm a competitive guy, I think the team can compete for the division and I want to make a long run in the playoffs. I want the North Shore to see our breakout year and win a couple of rounds in the playoffs and surprise a lot of people."

North Vancouver's Bryden Luscombe, an Argyle grad, was there for last season's drubbings.

"I've never experienced anything like that," he said. "I think in one stretch we lost 16 games in a row. It was painful, but I developed a lot, got a lot better."

He's back this year and expected to be one of the veteran leaders as one of the few 19-year-olds on the team. He's had a new outlook on this season ever since he heard that the team was moving to North Van.

"I was ecstatic, really excited to come home. There'll be a lot more people following the team here and better quality of hockey. Last year we just couldn't get the talent to come and play."

Defenceman Christian Stephenson, a native of Burbank, Calif., is one of the new players who chose to come to North Van. Last season he helped the Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League win a provincial championship. The Panthers were looking to trade him and Stephenson asked to be sent to North Van.

"The team's going to be good," he said, adding that he was excited to come into a new environment and help the team build something on the North Shore. "If we could get a lot of fans that'd be great. . . . It would be awesome just to get the whole town into it."

Fans that do come out and watch might be surprised by what they see, according to left winger Garrett Woodside, a 19-yearold hockey nomad from Crescent Beach who has played for junior teams across Canada. It's not the stereotypical brawling, mauling junior hockey of years gone by.

"(Fans) will see a high tempo, should be physical game," he said. "The occasional fight and lots of scoring. It's overall pretty good hockey."

Last season a Junior A team in New Brunswick signed Woodside up and wanted him to be the team's fighter but he soon soured on that plan. He finished the season in Squamish and is loving what he's seen so far this year.

"People want to play here. It's not just kind of a backup - people want to come here," he said, adding that he plans to be a scorer, not a fighter, with the Wolf Pack this year. "Nothing about it is the same as last year. The only thing that's similar is the team name. It should be good, I'm pretty excited."

Kinninmont and head coach and GM Matt Samson are both North Shore natives and the thought of bringing the Wolf Pack home has been in the back of their minds ever since they started the team, said Kinninmont. Now that they're here they're looking to set down roots and make connections with community volunteers, partners and, most of all, fans.

"The more the merrier," said Kinninmont. "We want to build something that the North Shore can be proud of. "We're hoping to get good energy and fill up the rink and just have people enjoy themselves on a Saturday night and come out and support the team."

. . .

The Wolf Pack begin regular season play Saturday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at Harry Jerome Arena against the Mission Icebreakers. Game day tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for seniors and students. Season tickets and value packs are available online. For more information visit www.northvanwolfpack.com.

aprest@nsnews.com

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