Langley Rivermen coach Steve O’Rourke goes over some X’s and O’s during the team’s practice on Tuesday at Sportsplex.

Rivermen era set to begin

New name, new coach, new players as Langley’s latest junior A hockey club takes to the ice for the BCHL season

One of the changes new Langley Rivermen head coach Steve O’Rourke made was to transform the games room into a learning room in the team’s dressing room.

While that may not be a popular move with the 16-to-20 male demographic, it is a necessity for what O’Rourke wants to instill in his junior A hockey club.

So instead of sitting around playing video games, the players can watch video to improve their hockey game.

“There is a ton of learning to do,” O’Rourke explained on Monday afternoon, just days before the Rivermen open the B.C. Hockey League season with a home-and-home series against the Surrey Eagles.

The teams play in Surrey on Friday and the Langley Events Centre on Saturday, with both games starting at 7 p.m.

O’Rourke and the Rivermen take over from Harvey Smyl and the Chiefs, who both went back to Chilliwack this off-season following the sale of the junior A hockey club.

Only a handful of players remain from the Chiefs 2010-11 roster.

The blue-line will be especially green, with only Ryan Bakken returning from last season and having junior A experience. He will be counted on to mentor the young blue-line corps.

While not ideal to have such limited junior A experience on the blue-line, that is the reality the team faces.

“We have a young set of defence that is going to take a lot of grooming,” O’Rourke said.

Up front, the returnees include Austin Plevy, Mason Blacklock, Mike Tebbutt and Darnell Dyck.

O’Rourke, who spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach in the pro game with the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Heat, knows that it will be a steep learning process as he gets to know his players and they get to know him.

“For our fans, they have to expect a young team that is trying to come together,” he said.

“There will be some long nights.

“We have to be patient and let these kids learn and develop.”

But that doesn’t mean the coach is giving them a free pass.

“My expectations are very high and they have to come in and meet those expectations.”

The team added eight American import players, many of whom played tier 3 junior, a step below the BCHL.

Team owner Roy Henderson, who runs Global Sports Scouting Services Inc., has extensive hockey contacts, so O’Rourke said fans can expect top talent from all over North America.

Another reason for the import heavy ratio of players is because since the new ownership did not take control of the organization until June 1, they were already behind in the recruiting process.

The Rivermen are going with Jimmy Kruger in goal and James Barr as his back-up.

Barr played junior B in Mission last season, while Kruger comes from the U.S.

“That is a piece we knew we had to have, a veteran goaltender,” O’Rourke said of Kruger.

Kruger played in the NAHL last season with the Texas Tornado, posting a 2.36 goals against average and a 0.914 save percentage.

Despite still getting to know his players — and the players getting to know the coaching staff — O’Rourke has what he calls guarded optimism.

He also promised the Rivermen will skate hard, play aggressive and pressure their opponents.

Gary AHUJA/Langley Times

Langley Rivermen’s Mason Blacklock looks for the puck in front of goaltender James Barr during Tuesday’s practice at Sportsplex. The Rivermen begin the BCHL season tomorrow (Friday) and play their home opener at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday.

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