Local hockey fans can mark Sept. 16 on their calendars as the official return date of junior hockey to Summerland, an occasion that also promises to be a home coming, sort of.
That date, a Friday, marks the first ever regular season game for the Steam, Summerland’s expansion entry in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
With the Steam, Junior B hockey returns to Summerland after the Summerland Sting had moved to Penticton for the 2009/2010 season to become the Penticton Lakers.
Now guess who will face off against the Steam in less than three month’s time?
“It should be a good game,” says Steam general manager Jonathan Bowman in commenting on the occasion.
It certainly holds the potential to be the first of many grudge matches with opponents up and down Highway 97.
But before the Steam can think of what promises to be an intensive rivalry game with its closest (at least geographically) competitor, much work remains to be done in the remaining weeks before the puck drops for real, not counting exhibition games.
The team is getting closer to selecting its opening day roster after holding a camp for prospects earlier this spring that attracted some 105 players.
About half of those players will join other players whom the team has scouted for the main training camp scheduled for the last week of August.
Overall, Bowman said the calibre of players has been impressive.
“We are pretty happy with the talent level,” he said.
But as one can imagine, putting together a team is not just a matter of selecting players.
“There is a lot of work to be done (off-ice),” said Bowman. This to-do list includes recruiting game-day volunteers for things like security, ticket sales and game operations.
The team also continues to recruit billets to host players.
Bowman said the team is looking for eight to 10 billet families, each of which will receive a set of season’s tickets plus $500 per month during the season to cover primarily board.
The team is also continuing to put fans in the stands through the season ticket sales, which are according to Bowman are “coming along” during what has been a slow period.
“It’s slow, but it is to be expected at this time of the year,” he said.