Cranbrook Bucks continue to prep for inaugural season

As any expansion team would, the Cranbrook Bucks have had a busy offseason ahead of their inaugural BCHL season. Noteworthy announcements from the team thus far include naming their first ever head coach and general manager and committing to 13 players.

The Bucks have also created a partnership with Cranbrook Minor Hockey Association, announced their hockey school, and a few other things. Let’s take a closer look at some of these announcements and also get familiar with a few of the Bucks we will see this upcoming season.

Bucks name Ryan Donald as general manager and head coach

Through a virtual press conference on March 24, team president and majority owner Nathan Lieuwen introduced Ryan Donald as the first ever general manager and head coach of the Cranbrook Bucks franchise. Donald is 33-years-old and from St. Albert, Alberta. He was planning on relocating to Cranbrook along with his wife and two daughters at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season.

Donald served as the assistant coach of the Yale University men’s hockey team for the past five seasons. He also played four seasons at Yale, including being captain in his final year, before going on to play three seasons of professional hockey. Donald also has some experience at the junior A level, playing 106 games over two seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

”I am thrilled to be able to lay the foundation for success here in Cranbrook. It is a rare opportunity to build a program from the ground up, and to do so in a place with a passion for hockey like Cranbrook is outstanding,” Donald said in a news release announcing his hiring. “It was clear to me from the beginning that our partnership is passionate about this community and the success of our athletes both on and off the ice. As head coach and general manager, I will bring that same energy and passion as we build a culture of daily excellence.”

Bucks add Noah Leibl, seven other forwards

The Bucks have committed to eight forwards to help shape their offensive attack this season. Let’s take a closer look at each player.

Noah Leibl, who turned 18 on March 20, is from San Diego, California. Leibl just completed his second season with Shawnigan Lake School Midget Prep of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League. He was the first ever player to commit to the Bucks.

AJ Vasko is a 17-year-old from La Salle, Manitoba. Vasko also spent last season in the CSSHL, where he played for Rink Hockey Academy Prep. He was his team’s captain last season.

Christian Lowe, who turns 18 on July 5, hails from Port Moody, BC. Lowe joins the Bucks after three seasons with the Vancouver NE Chiefs of the British Columbia Major Midget League. He was the captain of the Chiefs last season and was also voted team MVP.

Noah Quinn, who turns 17 on June 2, comes from Nelson, BC. He is the youngest Cranbrook Buck, as the only 2003-born player committed so far. Quinn also played in the BCMML last year, but for the Kootenay Ice. He received BCMML player of the month honours in January.

Brendan Rogers, an 18-year-old from Nanaimo, BC, joins the Bucks after spending parts of the last three seasons playing for his hometown Nanaimo Buccaneers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, leading his team in goals and points this past season.

Briggs Gammill, who will turn 19 on May 9, is a product of New Canaan, Connecticut. Gammill spent most of the last four seasons playing for Berkshire School of the United States Hockey School Prep League. He is committed to Yale University for the 2021-22 season.

Zeth Zindrachuk is a 17-year-old from Calgary, Alberta. Kindrachuk played Midget AAA last season for the Calgary Royals of the Alberta Midget Hockey League. He was also a teammate of defenseman Rhys Bentham, another Bucks’ recruit.

Nicholas Niemo, 19, is from Middlebury, Vermont. Niemo spent last season with Islanders Hockey Club of the National Collegiate Development Conference, where he was a teammate of Bucks committed goalie Jacob Zacharewicz.

Bucks add four defensemen, one goalie

To go along with the eight committed forwards for next season, the Bucks have also named their first four defensemen, and one goaltender.

Owen Forfellow is an 18-year-old defenseman from Abbotsford, BC. Forfellow spent the last two seasons with the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds of the BCMML. He was the first d-man, and second player overall, to commit to the Bucks.

Rhys Bentham, a defenseman turning 18 on May 15, hails from Calgary, Alberta. Bentham spent the last two seasons with the Calgary Royals Midget AAA. He was captain of the Royals last season and was also a teammate of Kindrachuk.

Bauer Morrissey, an 18-year-old defenseman from Skaneateleas, NY, most recently played for Millbrook School in the USHS Prep League, after playing two seasons for Skaneateles High in the USHS-NY.

Connor Sullivan is a 19-year-old defenseman from Plymouth, Michigan. He joins the Bucks after completing the last two seasons with the Boston Junior Bandits of the NCDC, where he was his team’s captain last year. Sullivan is committed to Yale University for the 2021-22 season.

Jacob Zacharewicz, a 19-year-old goaltender from Riverhead, NY, spent the last two seasons playing in the NCDC, and is committed to Brown University for 2021-22.

The Bucks have shown an ability and willingness to recruit players from all over North America. The diversity also includes the ages and years of eligibility of each player. There is one thing that remains consistent regardless of where each player has come from, the Bucks have found players who had key roles on their previous teams. Whether these committed players will be around for one, two, or three seasons, they are a big part of what happens on the ice for this team.

Other Bucks news

Also in March, the Bucks revealed the Cranbrook Bucks Hockey School, which will be held annually. The late summer hockey school will feature five separate groups based on age and level of hockey.

They will offer week-long camps with days ranging between one to six hours of activity, based on the group.

In April, the Bucks announced an exciting partnership with Cranbrook Minor Hockey Association. This includes a rebranding of the CMHA logo to its own custom version of the Bucks logo. The minor hockey teams will be called the Cranbrook Minor Hockey Bucks.

This means kids playing minor hockey in Cranbrook will get to look and feel just like their junior hockey idols. The Bucks have also committed to a donation to CMHA, as well as making appearances at minor hockey practices.

Back in November, the Bucks had announced their first ever spring camp to run May 1-3. They have since had to cancel it due to the complications of the evolving COVID-19 global pandemic. They are also dealing with the closure of the team’s office and the entire Western Financial Place.

Perhaps the most exciting news for Bucks fans, was when they released this video of the green jerseys they will wear in their inaugural season.

The Bucks have not done an official reveal of their white jerseys. Although, this tweet of their mascot ‘Stagger’ wearing a white jersey that seems to match the green one may be a good indication.

The preparation for the Bucks will continue ahead of their inaugural season. As nice as it is seeing a head coach and general manager in place, along with 13 players to make up the core of the roster, there is still a long way to go. The Bucks will look to add to the front office and coaching staff. The work is only a little more than half-done as far as committing players as well.

Although, they would likely leave a few roster spots open to be decided at main camp, whenever hockey activities are allowed to resume. For now, from a socially acceptable distance, the preparations will continue for the Bucks first season to kick off in September.