The new BC Hockey League season is nearly upon us and teams are close to assembling for training camps. There will be plenty of new faces in new places when camps open up around the league this month.
The Cranbrook Bucks are no exception, entering their second BCHL season. Despite having only three players age out from last year, there are certainly some holes to fill coming into year two. As of now, it appears Cranbrook will be turning over nearly one-third of its roster from the debut campaign in 2020-21.
The Bucks have already added seven new players to the team for the upcoming season — five forwards, a defenseman, and a goaltender. The six skaters have all been brought in through recruitment, while the lone goaltender was acquired via trade.
All seven of the new recruits were detailed in a recent BCHL next generation feature. In fact, one of the new players’ commitment to the team was essentially revealed through the article.
BCHL Next Generation: Cranbrook Bucks
After making their debut in the pod season last year, the Bucks are back for their first full-length regular season in 21-22. The team's head coach Ryan Donald gives us the goods on all the new players this year.https://t.co/KbfrBEiAM0 pic.twitter.com/CW8vHqEGsU
— BCHL (@BCHockeyLeague) August 24, 2021
In the time between this writing and the regular season, Cranbrook will still hold both a rookie camp and main camp. There is a possibility that the Bucks begin the season with even more fresh faces in the room.
For now, however, we know there are seven new Bucks in the herd as camp opens. Here’s an up close look at all seven newcomers, including their recent history and how they might impact the team this season.
The Bucks first new recruit for the upcoming season is 2005-born forward Walker Gelbard. All the way back in January, Cranbrook announced it had committed the North Vancouver native for 2021-22. Gelbard was later named an affiliate player for the 2020-21 pod season.
Although he is still technically a new recruit for the upcoming campaign, Gelbard is far from a newcomer to the team. Even as an affiliate player and the second-youngest player to appear in the BCHL last season, Gelbard enjoyed immediate success.
In 12 games with the Bucks in 2020-21, Gelbard scored twice and added seven helpers, leading the team in assists and finishing tied for the team lead in points with nine. Gelbard also led the Bucks in points-per-game among players who appeared in more than six contests.
BCHL Future Stars: Walker Gelbard
The 16-year-old Cranbrook Bucks standout reflects on his first year in the BCHL and what it was like to play with his brother, plus we hear from his head coach Ryan Donald on his approach to coaching such a young talent.https://t.co/lDrSlKIIBt pic.twitter.com/pygbU1dPcP
— BCHL (@BCHockeyLeague) July 7, 2021
The offensive success Gelbard enjoyed last season is something he has experienced going back to his days in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League with West Van Academy.
While playing for West Van’s U15 Prep team in 2019-20, he scored 10 goals and added 26 assists for 36 points in just 24 games. He also appeared in a pair of games with West Van’s U18 Prep team that season — in which he tallied two goals.
In the recent BCHL next generation article, Bucks general manager and head coach Ryan Donald mentioned how impressed he was with Gelbard.
“He certainly got a good taste of the BCHL last year during our pod season. He’s somebody that we think can have a pretty high ceiling and come in and contribute right away. We’re hoping to see him grow and learn how to compete night in and night out at the junior A level. He’s someone we think can be a pretty good player in our league.”
In February, Cranbrook committed to 2003-born forward Kellan Hjartarson from Calgary, AB. He joins the Bucks from the Calgary U18 AAA Buffaloes of the Alberta Elite Hockey League.
He was limited to just five games last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Hjartarson made the most of them. He scored five goals and added six assists for 11 points in those five contests. Over two seasons with the Buffaloes, he compiled 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points in 37 games.
Hjartarson’s best season to date was his 2018-19 campaign with the Calgary U16 AAA Blackhawks, in which he totalled 25 goals and 33 assists for 58 points in just 34 games. Those numbers were good enough to lead the team in assists and points while finishing one back of the leading goal scorer.
Kellan Hjartarson @CBHAMMHawks Minor Midget AAA Hawks player of the month! pic.twitter.com/rxR0Cida4F
— Calgary Buffaloes Hockey (@BuffsHockey) November 13, 2018
In the team’s news release announcing the commitment, Donald expressed his excitement about adding Hjartarson to the mix for the upcoming campaign.
”He represents a lot of what our organization prides itself upon — leadership, competitiveness, and work ethic. Beyond these qualities, he is a player that fits our style of play very well, blending skill, speed, and hockey sense to create offense while being responsible defensively. We look forward to having Kellan join the Bucks and becoming a member of our community in Cranbrook.”
In addition to the pair of domestic forwards the Bucks recruited for the upcoming season, they also nabbed some imports from south of the border. The first was 2003-born forward Andrew King, from Dubuque, IA, who the Bucks signed on July 5.
King spent the bulk of last season playing U18 AAA hockey with the Neponset Valley River Rats, collecting four goals and 16 assists in 20 games. In the two seasons prior, King played AAA hockey with the Sioux Falls Power. He combined for six goals and 14 assists for 20 points in 33 games played.
Most recently, King appeared in the Pandemic Hockey League this past spring. The PHL was a 10-week showcase featuring several games and practices in front of NCAA and NHL scouts.
King led the showcase in goals and plus/minus and finished second in assists. He was also named a first-team all-star for the tournament.
With the 157th overall selection in Phase II of the USHL Draft, we have selected Dubuque native Andrew King.
— Dubuque Fighting Saints (@fightingsaints) May 27, 2021
The strong spring season was followed by some draft activity over the summer for King. He was selected in the 11th round, 157th overall, by the United States Hockey League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. King was also ranked the 216th by NHL Central Scouting heading into the recent NHL Draft but didn’t hear his name called.
“We are thrilled to have Andrew commit to joining the Bucks for the 2021-22 season,” Donald said in the team’s press release. “Andrew is an exciting young player that will bring another element of skill and ability to our forward group. Our staff feels that Andrew fits our identity here in Cranbrook very well and expect him to transition easily into our roster this fall.”
On July 20, Cranbrook announced it had signed 2001-born forward John Johnson, out of Naperville, IL. The now 20-year-old import spent the last two seasons with the New Jersey Rockets in the National Collegiate Development Conference. He racked up 29 goals and 24 assists for 53 points in 86 career NCDC games.
Johnson also has nearly 50 games of experience in the North American Hockey League between 2018 and 2020. Prior to that, he put up 15 points in 20 contests during his last season with the Chicago 16U AAA Mission.
The Cranbrook Bucks (BCHL) are excited to announce that they have added forward John Johnson for the 2021-2022 season.
Full press release:https://t.co/gkBdnnmpGO
— Cranbrook Bucks (@CranbrookBucks) July 20, 2021
Johnson is a veteran player who the Bucks believe will be a big part of their sophomore season in the BCHL. He has some size to go along with his experience and according to a news release, Donald believes he will fit seamlessly in all areas of the Bucks game.
“As an older player, we expect him to be a leader within our group off the ice while also shouldering a significant role on the ice. He has proven to be a versatile player at all levels, one who sees the game very well and is able to play in a variety of situations. We look forward to having Johnny in our lineup, helping him to reach his goal of obtaining an NCAA opportunity, while also becoming an active member of the Cranbrook community.”
Two days after signing Johnson, Cranbrook announced the commitment of another 20-year-old import in forward Liam Hansson. The native of Ramsey, NJ actually has Swedish-American dual-citizenship.
After spending several seasons playing in Sweden, Hansson relocated to the United States to play in the NAHL. Over two campaigns between the Jamestown Rebels and Chippewa Steel, Hansson put up 19 goals and 42 assists for 61 points in 81 games.
— Chippewa Steel Hockey (@ChippewaSteel) May 28, 2021
Hansson is committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Air Force Academy after he finishes his junior career in Cranbrook. When the Bucks announced the signing on July 22, Donald insisted that Hansson will play a big role on the Bucks this year.
“He comes to us with an extensive resume at the junior level as well as internationally, and will be enrolling at the U.S. Air Force Academy at the end of the coming season. We are excited to have Liam on board to help prepare him for NCAA Division I hockey, and believe he can be an impact player in our lineup.”
The sixth and final newly recruited player for the Bucks isn’t actually that new of a recruit at all.
Cranbrook actually committed 2002-born defenseman Bauer Morrissey in April 2020, but he was forced to delay his arrival due to COVID-19 border restrictions. Instead, the Leesburg, Virginia native played another year of United States High School prep hockey, as well as some 18U AAA.
— Cranbrook Bucks (@CranbrookBucks) April 9, 2020
Morrissey’s time in USHS-Prep was spent with Millbrook School, where he tallied five goals and seven assists for 12 points in just six games played. Last year was Morrissey’s second with Millbrook, where he totalled 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 38 games over those two seasons.
Morrissey also spent time with the Rochester Coalition 18U AAA last season, putting up 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points in 34 contests. His two-year career totals with the Coalition were 15 goals, 23 assists, and 38 points in 53 games played.
Morrissey is now expected to come to Cranbrook and have an immediate impact as a 19-year-old on the Bucks back end. In fact, Donald said in the BCHL next generation feature — which essentially revealed his commitment — that Morrissey can play in all situations.
“He defends well, (and) he uses his body as well as his stick. He’s a guy we think can contribute offensively in time. Some of that will take an adjustment which is needed to play at this level, but we’re confident he can play all situations. He’s a really good skater and somebody who we look forward to working with.”
The last newcomer to the herd for the upcoming season is 20-year-old goalie Michael Harroch. Cranbrook acquired the North Vancouver, BC product in a July 13 trade from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Humboldt Broncos.
Photo: Marla Possberg pic.twitter.com/96ahmUVcDD
— SJHL (@theSJHL) January 29, 2020
Harroch spent the past two seasons with the Broncos, going 7-7-5 with a 3.08 goals-against-average, a .906 save percentage, and one shutout. Prior to beginning his junior career in the SJHL, Harroch appeared in 43 games over two seasons with the Vancouver NE Chiefs of the BC U18 AAA League.
In the Bucks media release about the trade that brought Harroch in, Donald expressed his excitement in adding the veteran goalie.
“One of our off-season priorities was to strengthen our goaltending and we believe that Michael does just that. We think that he can give us consistent goaltending and offer us the chance to win every night. We look forward to having him join us for his final season of Junior eligibility and hopefully give him the opportunity to further his career beyond the BCHL afterward.”
The addition of Harroch in net, as well as the six new skaters, should help solidify a roster that has a lot of talent returning with a bit of experience now under its belt. The expectation is probably for a competitive training camp, followed by a hungry team playing its arch-rival Trail Smoke Eaters on opening weekend.