Here's Dan Olsen's story from the Coquitlam Now on the 6 Express signings and some other player personnel moves.
Whether it’s rebuilding or, as Darcy Rota prefers to call it, retooling, the Coquitlam Express president/general manager now has more pieces to get the job done.
The B.C. Hockey League club announced the signing of six players Monday, a couple of days after receiving their player cards from Hockey Canada.
Fittingly for a team that finished last in the conference and third from the bottom in a 17-team league, every position is addressed in the first batch of signings.
The names of Khaleed Devji, Mark Begert, Justin Elliott, Justin Georgeson, Mitchell Deacon and Destry Straight may not ring many bells now with local hockey fans — although Deacon is a strapping Port Moody minor product — but Rota and head coach Jon Calvano believe they will be key pieces to an improved lineup for the 2010-11 season.
Coupled with two trades, the Express are looking to unleash a bolder, bigger squad when the junior A season kicks off in September.
In separate deals, they acquired the BCHL playing rights of Western Hockey League veteran and Coquitlam native Riley McIntosh and forward Steve Axford.
“These players address our needs at various positions and will make us a better team,” head coach Jon Calvano said.
Devji is an 18-year-old netminder who, as a rookie with the Pacific International Junior B league’s Grandview Steelers, posted the league’s best save percentage while recording 22 wins in 35 games. The 5’11 West Vancouver stopper was also voted the league’s MVP.
He played for Calvano during the Vancouver NorthWest Giants’ run to a 2008-09 B.C. Major Midget title.
“He did extremely well as a rookie (in junior B) and played a big part with the Giants. He’s very athletic, very lanky — although he’s not big, he’s really quick on his feet,” Calvano said.
Poised to battle for roles on defence are Begert and Elliott, who offer contrasting styles of play. Seventeen-year-old Begert registered four goals and 23 assists with Calvano’s Giants last season, demonstrating solid puck-moving abilities.
“He was one of our top-two defencemen, he’s a good skater who moves the puck well and makes good outlet passes.”
The 18-year-old Elliott skated in Grandview, and as a freshman racked up nine goals and 10 assists in 47 games. While his 12 penalty minutes suggest he isn’t a Chris Pronger type, his 6’2, 195-pound frame will be a major asset on defence, Calvano said.
The backline is ripe for opportunity, with positions open due to graduation and the recent defection by Simon Denis to the U.S. Hockey League.
To add a veteran presence to what will likely be a young defence, Rota acquired the rights to McIntosh, and hopes to have a commitment firmed up from the 6’5, 205-pound skater.
“He’d be a really good fit here, a local boy who would bring a lot of experience,” Rota said. McIntosh has 182 games of WHL experience.
Up front, both Deacon and Georgson will try to make the jump to junior A from major midget, having skated together with the Northeast Chiefs.
Deacon scored nine times and set up 21 goals over 40 games, while incurring 54 penalty minutes. At 6’3 and 177 pounds, he has impressive size for a 16 year old — he turns 17 before training camp opens. Georgeson, a Maple Ridge native, tallied 21 goals and 29 assists as one of the Chiefs’ on-ice leaders.
Straight, at 6’1 and 165 pounds, is a slick playmaker with plenty of offensive upside, having scored 12 goals and 51 assists in 39 major midget games.
“He’s got very good offensive skills, speed and he sees the ice exceedingly well.”
Axford, meanwhile, comes to Coquitlam via Camrose, the final piece to a Jan. 10 swap that sent winger Luke Challier to Alberta.
The 5’10 Victoria native split the season between Powell River and St. Albert, accumulating three goals and five helpers over 53 games, but was a top-five scorer in the Vancouver Island junior B League two seasons ago.
More moves and signings are expected in the coming weeks, Calvano said.
“We’re working slowly but steady deals, but getting these players on cards is a major step that has been in the works for a while. Definitely we’re looking to get a bit more tougher because we’ve got to compete against the Langleys, the Merritts and the Surreys.”
Calvano also announced Grant Kerr, one-time head coach of the Port Coquitlam Buckeroos, and Mark Goble as the assistants who will join him behind the bench. The pair bring a lot of junior coaching experience to the club, and have both played key roles in his own development as a coach.
“My goal is to be here for a long time and establish a winning program, like the Vernons, Pentictons and Nanaimos,” Calvano said. “A big part of it is surrounding yourself with good hockey people, which we’ve done. When you get that going, the kids do the recruiting for you.”
The league will release the 2010-11 schedule later this month, with Rota noting that it will include plenty of Friday evening home games. The regular season is slated to begin Sept. 10. Because of lacrosse commitments, the club will launch the season on the road.