It was an unusual off-season for Kootenay International Junior Hockey League teams because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They weren’t able to hold spring camps and showcases were delayed. This impacted the way they scouted and recruited for an unknown 2020-21 season, the start of which has been postponed to Dec. 8.
Most took the approach of wanting to be ready even if they didn’t know a season was happening.
Dean McAmmond, coach of the North Okanagan Knights, says they focused on homegrown talent.
“There may be a few stronger players if you go searching further up the tree, but there are some good ones that are not hard to reach,” he says. “The best of the low-lying fruit, I guess you could say.”
Looking at their roster, only two rookies this season are from outside B.C.
In Kelowna, Chiefs coach Ken Law says it took convincing players there would be a season and that the club would follow the proper safety protocols.
“We knew going into the recruiting process one area we would need to address was billet homes as not everyone would be comfortable in opening their homes to strangers during these strange times,” says Law.
“I became an online recruiter more than ever and learned lots about Zoom and Facetime.”
Osoyoos Coyotes head coach Carter Rigby leaned on contacts, among them Coyotes hockey consultant/assistant coach John DePourcq, who coached a midget zone team last season.
Rigby now has a few of DePourcq’s players on his roster, but there were challenges related to cost, causing some players to not play.
The Princeton Posse have always relied on their camps and other showcases to learn about recruits. This year, they used game film and tried to connect through other coaches and a scouting network to find the right pieces.
“The biggest challenge was losing both recruits and returning players because we had no real answers for them for so long,” says Posse coach-GM Mark McNaughton.
“Players and their families had to make decisions and when we didn't have answers on how the league would operate in time, they had to make other choices.”
And being hired into the Summerland Steam coach-GM position in April made things even more interesting for Nick Deschenes. Because he didn’t see midget or junior hockey the previous season, Deschenes felt he lost recruiting battles.
“In the off-season, lots of time was spent watching video from the previous season,” he says.
“I also made a point of attending every showcase possible to get a sense of the players available. Stats can be deceptive and being able to see a player live is very valuable.
“Having coached over the years, you start to find certain things that either qualify or disqualify a player quickly,” explains Deschenes.
“Then from there you take a closer look at the potential candidates. It's also important to give players more than one opportunity to showcase themselves. We all have bad days.”