Princeton Posse coach Geoff Goodman tapped the Whistler well not once, not twice, but thrice this offseason.
The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) club brought in three former Whistler Winterhawks in defenceman Noah Brusse and forwards Owen Reith and Owen Hart.
The rookies are already paying dividends as Reith is tied for second in goals with five, Hart chipped in his first of the year on the weekend to seal a 4-1 win over host Revelstoke, and Brusse contributed an assist in his second contest.Goodman liked being able to bring in three players from the same region as they quickly acclimatized to life outside the bubble.
"For them, it helped them settle in earlier because they had a buddy. A lot of times when guys go to junior and they go by themselves, that first couple weeks is really tough because it's a whole bunch of new guys in a new place outside of your comfort zone," he said. "For these three, I think it helped them."
Reith, in particular, has been clutch, scoring the overtime winner against Summerland in Princeton's first win of the season on Sept. 24, while his goal against Revelstoke on Sept. 30 stood up as the decider in a 4-1 win.
The 17-year-old has found chemistry on a line with Josh Dixon and Mort Johnson as they've been leaned on to kickstart the Posse attack.
"It's been good so far. We've gotten goals most games and that's something we all look for," he said. "Hopefully I can keep putting up points throughout the year."
The biggest change Reith has observed at the new level is the increased emphasis on hitting. While he said he's no wrecking ball, he'll hold his own.
"The physicality definitely steps up with bigger players, faster players. That is definitely a big change," he said. "I'm not the most physical, but it doesn't bother me at all. I like it.
"The physicality is good and helps get the boys going."
Hart, meanwhile, finally got off the schneid with his first KIJHL tally, coming on the power-play, no less. He was playing to his ability, but wasn't getting the bounces, he explained, but with the monkey off his back, he hopes the floodgates will start to open.
"At the start, I was just trying to get my feet into it and keep up with the pace and adapt. I was a bit snakebitten at the start. I was getting my chances but I wasn't able to bury any," he said. "This weekend, I got one and I'm hoping they're going to start coming more easily now.
"It was a point shot. The rebound came out to me and I just put it home. It was a greasy one."
Brusse, meanwhile, has had a little more trouble cracking the lineup consistently, seeing action in five games. He noted he's still trying to catch up with the faster pace of the higher level and ensuring that he's making the most of the time he's on the ice.
"I'm still working on it but definitely adapting as much as I can at the moment," the 16-year-old said. "The speed change has been the real big change so far from midget to Junior 'B'.
"I'm trying to simplify my play and work on the little things."
Though the Posse have posted just two wins in eight outings, they've been more competitive than the record suggests, with three of those losses coming by a single goal.
"We haven't been winning all of our games, but the atmosphere around the team has been awesome and I'm enjoying the experience," Hart said. "At the start of the year, we didn't have much chemistry, so we were having breakdowns. Now that we're getting closer, I feel like we're really going to turn it around here and we might start having a strong season."
Added Reith: "We've been getting close in games and winning some games, so I think in another year with a little bit older players, we could be doing really well," he said.
Goodman has been thrilled with the play of all three, expecting them to be cornerstones of the lineup as they mature. He said all three have been coachable and have settled in well to Princeton.
"They're good guys and they fit into the team right away," Goodman said. "Owen Reith has been very, very good offensively for us. He's dangerous every time he's on the ice. He's picked up the systems and what we want to do right out of the gate.
"Hart is the perfect last name for the kid. The guy works hard every shift, every practice, every game. You know what you're going to get from him. He battles hard and does everything you ask of him to do and he has a smile on his face at the end of the game.
"Noah being the younger of the three, it's been a little bit more of a learning curve for him. He's got good size and is very poised with the puck. He's really getting our systems so for him, it's just going to be a matter of (adjusting to) the pace of the game."
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