Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Canada West - West Division Preview by Wayne Thomas

As has been the case over the past few years, Canada West will kick off the CIS regular season beginning this weekend with a full slate of games. For those who haven't yet heard, Canada West has a new look, with two divisions (West - the former Pacific with 6 teams and East - the former Mountain and Great Plains divisions combined into one). The playoff format has also been altered as 8 teams make the playoffs: the new structure in Canada West has only 3 guaranteed spots for West Division teams, 4 for the east, plus a wildcard team filling out the quarter-final draw and the first round will involve a cross-over. That is, 1st West vs. 4th East (all Best 2 out of 3 on the same weekend with home school getting all 3 games at home). One aspect I personally find disappointing are the names of the divisions as Canada West West Division doesn't seem to roll off the tough as nicely as Canada West - Pacific and Canada West - Mountain/Prairie or the like.

We have very pleased to be able to share with you a pair of very comprehensive Canada West previews (West and East Divisions) written by the incomparable Wayne Thomas who keeps everyone so well informed about Calgary Dinos and Canada West activity. Wayne has been great providing information along with another legend out west who continues to beg for anonymity - we thank all our sources for helping to keep the entire country informated about our great game.


T-Birds, Spartans Look to be the Class of the West. Led by floor leader Josh Whyte, the UBC T-Birds have won the Canada West crown in 2 of the past 3 years and appear to have a line-up capable of adding to that string despite the loss of 3 key veterans from last year’s silver medalist squad. Chris Dyck, the deadeye shooter, Bryson Kool, the big man in the middle, and Matt Racher, the effective strong forward, are all gone, but Coach Kevin Hanson has his outstanding scoring point guard, Whyte, ace rebounder Brent Malish, and outside threat Blaine Labranche returning. Additions to the roster include 6’5” former TRU star Kamar Burke, and highly touted guard transfer Denny Dumas, a B.C. native who played at U. of North Dakota. The Trinity Western Spartans, who were hammered in the Canada West semi-final 96-65 by the eventual champion Dinos, have added some transfer recruits, who should have them giving the ‘Birds all they can handle in the West Division. The 2009 CIS player of the year, 6’7” Jacob Doerksen is a strong, smart, and smooth power player, who can score and rebound with Canada’s best. Several notables in a very deep recruiting class include 6’6” Tyrell Mara, a talented wing man, who played at Portland in the NCAA, coming out of Coach Scott Allen’s perennially dominant White Rock Christian high school program. Another NCAA transfer is 6’5” Calvin Westbrook, who is a skilled combo guard. The Simon Fraser Clan, entering their last season in Canada West before fleeing to the NCAA Div. II ranks, feature two senior guards, Sean Burke and Matt Kuzminski, and a couple of rugged inside threats in Tallon Milne and Eric Burrell. They and the UVic Vikes hope to challenge the Thunderbirds and the Spartans. Fraser Valley Cascades Coach Barnaby Craddock wants to move up nearer the top of the West standings in this, his 3rd season as Head Coach in Abbotsford. The Cascades are definitely a team on the rise, with Kyle Grewal and Sam Freeman ready to lead the assault. The addition of California import Zeon Gray at the point should get these two scorers the room they need, and the return of Yale HS sensation, Joel Friesen, out last year with a knee injury, will also stir excitement in the Valley. That leaves Coach Thom Gillespie’s Thompson Rivers Wolfpack with slim pickings in the race for a playoff spot, despite the return of 7’ Greg Stewart, an effective shot blocker, and uber-senior Sean Garvey, who plays his 5th year after a foray into coaching. Jeff Friesen, a tough 6’7” forward, and Drew Bleth, a 3 point threat are another two 5th years expected to lead the ‘Pack.

Team Predictions ...
1. UBC T-Birds - Until they’re knocked off, the ‘Birds are the favourites, with the dynamic Josh Whyte penetrating,scoring, and creating opportunities for his new running mate, Kamar Burke, a 6’5” scoring threat who left TRU for a spot with the perennial contenders at Point Grey..The team grit and chemistry will be a focus for Coach Kevin Hanson, as he tries to bring all the new elements together. Helping with this task will be a solid group of returnees, especially Brent Malish, who rebounds with a vengeance and 6’6” Kyle Watson, a glue guy in the post who will scrap on every possession. Blaine Labranche (5th) is a dangerous outside shooter, and Balraj Bains, the 6’9” post, now gets his chance to become an integral part in the rotation. As usual UBC flaunts incredible depth, with Alex Murphy, Akeem Pierre, and Nathan Yu, just waiting for their chances to contribute, and newcomer Denny Dumas, a 6’2” transfer from North Dakota, originally from Burnaby, expected to shine. To add to the embarrassment of riches Coach Hanson successfully recruited two of B.C.’s top high school grads in 6’1”Jas Gill, guard, Oliver, and 6’4” Tommy Nixon, Kitsilano, Vancouver. This new group will be tested by improving contenders in the West, but UBC has, indeed, re-loaded, and is hunting for another championship.
Lost ... Dyck, Kool, Racher. Added ... Burke, Dumas, Gill, Nixon. Last Year ...21-2 ... Prediction ... 14-4

2. Trinity Western Spartans - Not to be out-done in the recruiting wars, Coach Scott Allen snared Calvin Westbrook, and Tyrell Mara, two more B.C. high school grads returning from U.S. college experiences, and 6’8” Clint Wickham from the B.C. College League, scoring 18 ppg and rebounding 11 rpg. Trinity has considerable veteran presence as well, with outside shooter Louis Hurd ready to fire plus two big men 6'8" Joe Vroom and 6’7” Lance Verhoeff, a Calgary Christian HS grad in his 4th year. Top prospect Tonner Jackson, who, along with Mara, toiled for Coach Allen at White Rock, is a 6’7” banger, who will help with depth up front. Add two other impact recruits in 6’6” Nico Manochini, a wing from Burnaby, who had a sip at a U.S. junior college, and 5’9” point Elijah Nakagawa, a 16 ppg scorer at Columbia Bible College, and you have a deep and talented team looking to take another shot a dethroning the T-Birds in the West.
Lost ... Jamie Vaughn, Brian Banman ... Added ...
Westbrook, Mara, Wickham, Manochini, Jackson ... Last Year ... 17-6 ... Prediction ... 13-5

3. Fraser Valley Cascades - Youth will be served, and the Cascades top players are 2nd and 3rd years for the most part. Last year’s Canada West rookie of the year, Sam Freeman, will likely chalk up big point totals with his feathery touch and quickness to the rim, and Kyle Grewal, at 6’6”, a slick 3rd year forward with guard skills can step up his scoring and continue to be a big factor on the glass for Coach Craddock. UFV could move up to challenge the “big two” if their key recruits, point guard Zeon Gray and Laurentian transfer Craig Bauslaugh can make an immediate impact. Joel Friesen, coming off a year of rehab on his ACL injury, has the pedigree to shine as a rookie,and his all-around game should nicely into Craddock’s offensive plan. Big man Josh Kufske, a 6’7” 2nd year, can shoot, and the forward group will be strengthened by 6’8” James Elliott, who scored 14 ppg at Lakeland College in the Alberta Colleges League. The 4th year post, an Australian, is a versatile threat at both ends of the court. 6’7” Jasper Moedt rounds out a solid front line with his rugged style aimed at grabbing boards and getting the garbage hoops. This Cascades team will surprise some of Canada West’s highly regarded squads, and should be a factor in the playoffs with the maturing of their stars and addition of key talent.
Lost ... Tristan Smith, Gurjote Jhaj, Mike McKay ... Added ... Gray, Bauslaugh, Friesen, Elliott. ... Last year ... 7-16 ... Prediction ... 12-6

4. Victoria Vikes - The loss of Mitch Gudgeon and Tyler Haas leaves Coach Craig Beaucamp without 29 pts. and 16 rebounds a game, and a huge deficit in on court leadership. Ryan McKinnon a strong wing-man with a deft touch from downtown, will be expected to carry the scoring load, along with Wendell Thomas, a 6’6” forward, who finished strong last season both as a scorer and rebounder. Cyril Indome, a speedy guard from Winnipeg, now in his 5th year will be a key starter, along with big Mike Berg, a bruising post man, who returns from a stint with Canada’s National Rugby program. The Vikes added two big men, Nick Adair,a 6’6” former BCCAA rookie of the year, and 6’8” Adam Connelly, who is touted as having European type skills, for a big man. Zac Andrus, a talented point guard from Whatcom College, Bellingham, will push 4th year Jeff Cullen for the starting role. Dan Evans, a 6’3” transfer, led the BC Colleges in scoring as a rookie. Coach Beaucamp is known as a defensive-minded mentor who will have his Vikes competing for a playoff chance, but the new structure in Canada West has only 3 guaranteed spots for West Division teams, 4 for the east, plus a wildcard team filling out the quarter-final draw. This may mean the Vikes, long a fixture near the top of Canada West, will be scrambling in late February. Lost ... Gudgeon, Haas, Brandon Dunlop, Mike Hull ... Added ... Andrus, Adair Connelly ... Last year ... 17-6 ... Prediction ... 11-7

5. Simon Fraser Clan - For their swan-song in Canada West, the forever also-ran Clan are hoping their two big senior guards, Sean Burke, and Matt Kuzminski can somehow lead them to competitiveness with UBC and Trinity. Kuzminski racked up 15 ppg and added 5.5 rebs., while Burke, the set-up man had 5 assists per game to go with 12 ppg and 4.5 rebs. Burke recently broke the Clan’s all-time assist record, and he must be the key factor, if SFU has any playoff aspirations.
Coach Scott Clark. in his 15th season, will sorely miss big man Greg Wallis and his 18 pts. and 10 rebs. per game. The big man to watch now is Eric Burrell, a 6’7” 3rd year from Surrey, who will have Talon Milne, a 6’8”, 2nd year, from Vanderhoof to assist with the heavy lifting. Coach Clark also hopes Tristan Gruenthaler, a 6’6” forward from Yale Sec. can deliver on his promising form. Kevin Shaw, a teammate of Burke’s at Argyle Sec. is a 3 pt. threat in his 5th year, and will keep this guard-oriented team in some games with his 44% shooting from beyond the arc. Kevin Pribilsky comes off the bench with speed and some scoring touch and couple of 6’5” prize recruits with an eye to a future in NCAA Div. ll are Chris Paredes from N. Van. and A.J. Hanson from Port Coquitlam.
Lost ... Wallis ... Added ... Gruenthaler, Paredes, Hanson ... Last year ... 14-9 ... Prediction ... 9-9

6. Thompson Rivers Wolfpack - Sitting out there in the Interior, Kamloops appears to be a tough recruiting draw, and Coach Thom Gillespie is hoping a couple of seasoned veterans who are returning for another go will be able to lift the ‘Pack to respectability. Sean Garvey, a lead guard who will score and compete, will help as a mentor for younger talent, and Greg Stewart, a 7‘ 1” gentle giant of a shot-blocker (51 last year), will be a big space-eater in the middle, but there just doesn’t appear to be enough fire-power to allow TRU to improve there cellar position in the West. Jeff Friesen, a 5th year forward from Vancouver Island, led the ‘Pack with 16 ppg, and Drew Bleth, a 6’1”, 5th year guard, who scored 15 ppg with his outside shot, will spark the attack. New recruits, who Coach Gillespie has had a chance to recruit, include Travis Beck, a 6’6 guard/forward from Vernon, along with Milos Janjic, a guard, and Joseph Tubbs, a forward, both from Ontario. The pre-season brought 5 losses, with 4 against CIS schools, and 1 vs. UNBC, a B.C. College League team. The only 2 wins were over Langara College of Vancouver, and this does not auger well for the Wolfpack prospects in the upcoming regular season.
Lost ... George Aramide ... Added ... Garvey, Janjic, Beck, Tubbs. Last year ... 2-21 ... Prediction ... 3-15.

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