The North Van Wolf Pack is chewing up the PJHL so far this season and it is a trio of homegrown players who are leading the hunt.
The top line and power play unit of captain Justin Lee, centre Jacob Fournier, and left winger Lucas Barker has led a balanced Wolf Pack attack that has seen the team win their last 11 games and cruise to the top of the standings with a record of 24 wins and four losses.
Wolf Pack general manager and director of hockey operations Matt Samson said his team has strength throughout the lineup, but gave a nod to the three North Vancouver natives who all are top-10 in the league in points. The three of them are all dedicated two-way players who take care of business on both ends of the ice, said Samson.
“An offensive opportunity from them might start from below our goal line with a nice check from Jacob and then you’ve got tons of speed where you can hit these guys on a stretch play – they just seem to find each other. Fournier is a great playmaker and Lee and Barker are in the right spots and they can finish.”
At 20 years old Lee is the elder statesman on the line, a highly skilled winger who is listed at 5-9 but has an undeniable presence on the ice. He may have been overlooked by some higher-level teams due to his size, but he stands tall for the junior B Wolf Pack, said Samson.
“Justin is just unbelievable. He’s the kind of kid you want on the ice in every situation,” he said. “He’s just such an honest player. He works hard, he back checks, he’s in the right spots, he’s creative offensively. And I can’t speak enough about his character off the ice. He comes from a great family. … He’s great in the dressing room and he’s just a phenomenal player to watch.”
On the other wing is 19-year-old Barker, another player who tasted junior A action before coming back to North Van. Barker was cast as a checking player on previous teams but has blossomed offensively since coming home to join the championship hunt with the Wolf Pack, said Samson.
“I always saw the upside of Lucas’ skill, he’s just such a hardworking and honest player that’s going to play a 200-foot game. He’s going to do all the little things.”
Down the middle is Fournier, the youngest of the three as an 18-year-old rookie.
“He’s a playmaker, great vision, very good defensively as well,” said Samson. “As a centre he takes the right angles, he’s got a good stick, he’s not afraid to get in there and engage and turn pucks over.”
The North Van Wolf Pack ran their win streak to double digits with a big 3-2 overtime road win over the second place Delta Ice Hawks last week at the Ladner Leisure Centre.
Defenceman Jacob Callas – a key addition over the summer who leads the team from the backline – scored one minute and 50 seconds into overtime to give the Wolf Pack the win. North Van also got goals from Aidan Bar-Lev-Wise and Lee to take a 2-1 lead late into the third period but the Ice Hawks tied it up with less than two minutes to go on a power play goal from league-leading scorer Alex Surprynowicz.
Spencer Eschyschyn made 27 saves as the Wolf Pack outshot the Ice Hawks 32-29 in the win, with Lee leading the way with a goal and an assist and Barker picking up a pair of assists.
Kaz Minemoto, Dominic Davis, Bar-Lev-Wise, and Callas all have cracked the top-25 on the league’s points list along with Lee, Barker and Fournier. That depth has helped push the Pack 12 points ahead of Delta on top of the PJHL standings.
“We just have a lot of balance,” said Samson. “If you look at our team there’s a lot of guys averaging around a point a game and lots of ice time for everybody. It’s working well.”
In goal Eschyschyn and Niklas Hoem have formed a stellar tandem, each with a goals-against-average under 1.90 and a save percentage above 0.920. Both are top-six in the league in wins.
The Pack will host a rematch against the Ice Hawks on Saturday, Dec. 8 starting at 7 p.m. at Harry Jerome Recreation Centre. North Van will also be at home Dec. 15 against the Langley Trappers and Dec. 22 against the Abbotsford Pilots.