The junior hockey team that calls Vancouver home gets a fresh start on Friday with the opening of the 2011-12 Northern Pacific Hockey League season.
Players and management for the newly-christened Vancouver Victory understand that it will take more than an ownership change and a new name to establish a reputation for success.
The team formerly known as the River City Jaguars begins play in a revamped NORPAC by visiting Bremerton for games against the West Sound Warriors on Friday and Saturday.
During October, Vancouver will play only three home games at Mountain View Ice Arena, which gives new head coach John Nogatch some time to sort out what kind of team he has before the Victory try to win over local hockey fans.
Nogatch is a Seattle-area native who concluded his college hockey career in 2009 as a defenseman at Becker College of Leicester, Mass.
Andrew Vilcauskas bought the franchise from John McBride, a transaction that was approved by the NORPAC board of governors shortly before training camp began in late August.
Despite uncertainty over the summer about the team’s status, Nogatch said he is pleased with the roster that has been put together with help from Robin Reese, the Victory general manager and player personnel director.
“We have a lot of speed. That’s going to be our biggest asset,” Nogatch said.
There is a Clark County connection on the roster. Among the local players who chose to play with the Victory are brothers Joe, Avik and Elijah Bordak. They finished last season as the most dynamic line for the Jaguars, but at least two of the Bordaks were expected to move to other leagues this season.
Erik Mathies, a Union High grad who is entering his fourth season with the team, said this club will be more competitive than the Jaguars squad that finished 2010-11 with 14 wins and 36 losses — 64 points behind first-place Seattle.
“We’re going to win,” Mathies said. “We’re not going to lose 12-1 at home this year. We want to make sure we give (fans) reason to come back.”
The captains said the team is committed to playing an entertaining brand of hockey — and has enough skill and speed to do that.
Skilled players up front can be entertaining, but success in the NORPAC requires physical toughness. With players ranging in age from 15-20, teams with more 19- and 20-year-olds tend to have the most success. The core of the Victory roster is ages 17-18.
“It’s known as a physical league,” Tuttle said. “You’ve got to be able to take a hit. You can’t just hide away in the corners.”
Tuttle, 19, is new to NORPAC. He spent last season playing in a similar league in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, a town of only 1,200 in eastern Canada. The Spokane native said he is looking forward to being six hours from home this season.
The changes for the Vancouver franchise were part of a busy offseason for the decade-old NORPAC, Several of its teams left to form the new America West Hockey League. The 2011-12 NORPAC is an eight-team league with teams in Vancouver, Bremerton, Seattle, Eugene, Ore., Medford, Ore., Whitefish, Mont., Butte, Mont., and Cody, Mont. Its champion will participate in the USA Hockey national tournament for Junior A Tier III teams.