Welcome to Quick Shift, which provides a preview of each of the 20 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League teams, with insights from their respective general managers leading up to the 2023-24 regular season on September 22. We begin with the Spokane Braves, as they will hit the ice for their 50th season on opening night against the Columbia Valley Rockies on the road, then their home opener is September 30 against the Golden Rockets at Eagles Ice Arena
In the organization’s history, they have competed for three league championships. The first two were as the Flames in 1978/79 and 1983/84, and the third in 1991/92 as the Braves. In 2019-20, the Braves finished third in the Neil Murdoch Division with a record of 20-23-4-0-2.
Their Quick Shift preview will be longer than the other 19 teams because they return following a three-year hiatus. Darin Schumacher, hired in October 2020 as the new General Manager and Head Coach, talks about this Braves squad that he has built from scratch. The lone player who was eligible to return from the 2019-20 roster is Ryan McKenna, who has committed to play for Manhattanville College in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III.
What are the important characteristics/skills you look for in players to shape your roster?
We have recruited team-first guys and it’s a talented group that will add positivity to the locker room. We want them to be relentless on the ice, attacking all the time without the fear of making mistakes.
Did you have a good off-season of recruiting?
We had a great off-season with a really solid camp and have a great group of guys.
How do you want your team to play?
We’re gonna spend a lot of time trying to create puck possession in the offensive zone. Our theory is simple – if we have the puck more than the other team, we have a pretty good chance to win.
What intrigued you to become the next coach for the Spokane Braves?
There’s a lot of really good players in our area and they need an affordable place to play. The KIJHL offers a tremendous opportunity for kids, one to have a blast during the season, but also to advance their career. Half of our kids are high school seniors so it’ll also allow them to go to school. Creating a hockey community here that points at the Braves has really been my mission for the last three years.
Have you coached at the Junior level before?
I was the volunteer assistant coach for the Braves before COVID-19 hit. Last year, I helped out with the Sheridan Hawks in the North American 3 Hockey League as a video and power-play coach. Most of my experience is coaching youth and high school hockey in North Dakota.
What do you like about the group of seasoned players who will play a big part on your team?
We have some really good leaders coming to play with us this season with Junior experience. They will do a great job showing our new-to-junior guys how to prepare and recover.
There are many family connections on this roster, talk about how that played out?
The people that have played in the KIJHL know how special it is. Those parents are gonna point their younger kids right to the Braves and those families pretty much recruited the rest of the players. For the last three years a lot of these kids have been training with me in the summer. They’ve just gotten to know each other so well that this was the logical next step.
There are two sets of brothers on the roster with the Humphreys (Josh & Ben, whose older brother Derek played for the Braves) and the Eloes (Robert & Raphael). Do you like what you see from them to have them on a line during the season?
My guess is by the end of the year they’ll be both playing on the same line. The Humphreys are natural goal-scorers, who are really offensive and creative. The Eloes are going to be really difficult to play against. They’re extremely strong and bring a presence to the ice that we need. They’re very relentless and good at setting the tone. As far as puck possession and the offensive zone, they’re gonna put some pucks in the net.
What will Dante Hughes, the brother of former Brave Bear Hughes bring?
He’s just a 200-foot center who will do whatever it takes to make the Braves successful.
He’s very quiet and goes about his business every day. He’s got a lot of similarities to Bear offensively, but he brings a defensive zone presence that is kind of unmatched. In our area, he’s very difficult in the defensive zone to play against.
Your son Tie, who you’ve coached, has earned a spot on the team. What will he bring to the group?
Tie is young, but he got to play Junior hockey last year with the Sheridan Hawks and learned the hard way. Tie’s a very smart player and shoots the puck really well and works extremely hard to use his teammates. He’s a big kid at 5-10, 190 pounds, is strong and plays pretty well with Dante. Adding Zach Baumann into that line is gonna be pretty exciting.
You have one 20-year-old in goalie Andrew Tworkowski. Was it important for you to have an older player share the crease with 17-year-old Jack Wood?
Jack played last year in the NA3HL and did really well. He’s a very, very hard worker and works on his craft. Both kids know each other really well. Andrew is athletic and a really good goalie and together those guys will do really well for our team.
What do you like most about this group that you have seen so far?
We’re young, but talented, so we’re going to have success. It might not be all the time, but they’re such good teammates. I think they’re going to surprise some people. It’s really fun to watch them on the ice.
What are some goals that you would like to accomplish with the team this season? Do some of them tie in to setting up success for future seasons?
We are hoping to compete hard in each game. Our goal is to establish our special teams early as that will be important to get our young group up to speed. As we re-establish ourselves in the KIJHL, we need to bring an attacking attitude to the rink each day and continue to build our team with solid individuals that play team-first hockey.
What is the important vision you have that leads to building the team you want?
We want to become a destination for Pacific Northwest players. The KIJHL is a tremendous opportunity for kids in the area and the Braves need to provide a program that works hard to give a great experience for players.