The two-time defending Central Interior League Champion Smithers Steelheads are back and ready to defend their title.
Though most of their championship team is intact, the Steelheads have made a few key changes. Last season, the Steelheads ran away with the CIHL Central Division, posting a 15-3-0 record, 16 points clear of the second place Omenica Ice, while leading the league in goal scoring (106) and goals against (44).
The Steelheads are the odds on favourite this season, but they’re missing a few key pieces from last year’s championship squad and will need their recent additions and role players to step up and take on bigger roles.
Gone are the team’s third and fourth leading scorers, Lane Perry and Jody Pederson, who’ve left town for school and work.
Their combined 23 goals and 49 points will be difficult to replace.
Pederson led all defensemen in CIHL scoring last season with 24 points (12-9-24).
“It was a bonus to have Pederson last year,” head coach Tom DeVries said. “We knew ahead of time that he might be here temporarily. These guys are still young, so they are looking into school and other opportunities.”
With Pederson out and fellow defenceman Spencer Brooks a question mark to return, DeVries might play a forward or two on the back end.
At this point, Ian Smith is the leading candidate but they might get help from former Wolverine Keegan Jack, who is still deciding whether or not he’ll play.
“Both Pederson and Brooks are big, good skating defenceman and it will be a big blow to lose them on the back end,” captain Daryl Young said.
“We are just going to have to step up and play better defensively as a team. We still have some top defenceman in this league though. Ryan DeVries, Devon Booth and Eric Smith are all great players.”
Up front the Steelheads have added two big pieces to the puzzle, in centre Amedee Marshall and winger Kirk Meaver.
Marshall last played for the Hazelton Wolverines during the 2009-10 season, where he averaged just under a point a game.
“He’s going to be a great asset for us,” DeVries said. “He’s got finesse, he’s a playmaker and he’s a goal scorer.”
Meaver is a former four year WHLer, who spent parts of two seasons with the Prince George Cougars. He hasn’t played competitively in a few years, but DeVries is impressed with what he’s seen so far.
“He’s a very good player. He just moved to town, but he doesn’t look out of place at all.”
The additions of Meaver and Marshall will go a long way towards replacing some of the offence the Steelheads lost last year.
In net, the Steelheads still boast the CIHL’s best goalie, Mike Wall, though they’ll have to do without him for the first month or so of the season.
Tyler Perreault and Steve Andrade, who backed the Steelheads to their recent Challenge Cup victory, will share the duties until Wall returns.
As usual, the Steelheads top competition will come from the Williams Lake Stampeders and the Kitimat Ice Demons.
“Kitimat is always up there, but I feel like we can still beat them,” Young said. “Williams Lake is probably going to be our biggest competition. They have a revolving case of guys that always seem to do well.”
“Our expectations are another title,” DeVries said. “But even though you’ve won a couple in a row, you still have to go out and prove yourself.” “Up until last year, we’d never won two in a row, so this would be something.”
Their title defence begins on Saturday when they travel to Houston to take on the Luckies.