Warriors open 2023-2024 BCHL season against high-flying Penticton Vees

Warriors await big test

The West Kelowna Warriors won't be able to ease their way into the new BC Hockey League season.

The Warriors will kick off the new season Friday night against the two-time defending Fred Page Cup champion Penticton Vees, a team that has lost just 11 times in regulation over the past two seasons.

The Vees are a team that has had the Warriors number since the spring of 2022, winning 10 straight by a combined 68-15.

But as the old saying goes, that was then, this is now. Except for six returning veterans, West Kelowna has a new team, new optimism.

Hope springs eternal.

"Last year obviously didn't go well against them as a team and the year before we won the regular season battle and lost the playoff battle, so hopefully we can flip that this year," said head coach Simon Ferguson on the eve of the regular season.

"But, it's only game one so it's not make-or-break. We've got 54 games to get to where we need to get to and be ready for that playoff series."

The Warriors will have a much different look when they hit the ice Friday.

For starters, the roster will feature a pair of European players for the first time after the BCHL announced teams could roster two Europeans as part of a package of new rules adopted by the league after breaking away from Hockey Canada at the end of last season.

Forwards Viggo Nordström from Sweden and Norwegean Johannes Løkkeberg are expected to help lead a dynamic offence that includes newcomer Cal Hughes who represented the U.S. at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup in the summer, highly touted Jack Pridham along with returnee Brennan Nelson who will look to build on a 12 goal, 40 point 2022-2023 season.

On the blueline, Isaiah Norlin returns for a third season to anchor the back end.

Norlin broke out last season with six goals and 38 assists.

"Norlin coming back I think is a huge addition for us.

"He's going to be a player to continue to watch and should be one of the top defenders in the league."

Rorke Applebee is expected to see the bulk of the work between the pipes.

The 20-year-old Châteauguay, Que. native allowed just one goal in back-to-back games last weekend against the Vernon Vipers.

Ferguson says Applebee impressed him last season, especially his play during the 2023 Centennial Cup.

He held the powerful Brooks Bandits to just a single goal in the tournament semi-final, finishing the week with a 1.58 goals against average and .942 save percentage.

The Warriors will begin the season with a 26-player roster, including 14 forwards, nine defencemen and three goaltenders.

Teams will be allowed to dress 21 players.

A courtyard tailgate party will take place outside Royal LePage Place prior to the game.

Faceoff between the Warriors and Vees Friday is at 7 p.m.

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