WSHL season on tap for confident, excited Knights
Phoenix Knights coach-GM Chris Walker wants bygones to be bygones.
During the 2014-15 Western States Hockey League (WSHL) season, the Knights won just 10 games and finished out of a Thorne Cup playoff berth.
This season, Walker said renewed optimism and a solid lineup should produce more wins for the Knights.
“I expect nothing less than bringing a winning tradition back to Phoenix,” said Walker. “I want our fans to share that excitement level and want them to expect to see a high-energy brand of hockey out of the Knights this season. We have a great group of kid this year and everyone is committed to the team goals.”
Key players back in Phoenix this year include goaltender Luke Stripp, forward Ethan Cooper and defensemen Davis Dryden and Chase Gillaspie, in addition to newly-named captain Jim Ericsson, who played junior hockey for the Eastern Hockey League’s Vermont Lumberjacks in 2014-15 and is now back home with the Knights.
Ericsson won the 18U AAA Arizona state title back in 2014 with the Phoenix Firebirds, so the winning pedigree is already there.
“When we won the state title, we had good coaches (head coach Todd Collins, assistant coaches Doug Maire and Bruce Ericsson), a good system, and good players,” explained Ericsson. “We have all three of those this year and with Coach Walker, we definitely have the opportunity to experience similar success.”
Walker, who played for the Knights back when the team was the Phoenix Polar Bears, is entering his first full season as head coach and said being in the situation of being a player-turned-coach for his hometown team is “a shot of adrenaline, to say the least.”
“I’ve been with this team for three years now and not only do we want to win, but we want to win by playing the game the right way,” Walker said. “This is my home, I started my playing career here, but there is no real pressure – just my own personal pressure to win.”
And with Ericsson, a dependable forward who prefers to lead by example, he said that although the team is still in the initial stages of development from a chemistry standpoint, the players and coaches all have a positive attitude on and off the ice.
“We’re definitely coming together as a team,” said Ericsson. “We have a great group of kids who want to succeed and have a successful year. If we all buy in to what Coach Walker is teaching, then I have no doubt that great things will happen this year.”
With the Arizona Hawks another in-state team in the WSHL, the geographical rivalry is a given and one Walker is looking forward to continuing this upcoming season.
“The Hawks always have a good team and play us extremely hard,” said Walker. “Games with them are always exciting.”
Ericsson echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“Being new to the league, I don’t know much about the rivalry with the Hawks, but I’m always looking forward to competitive hockey,” added Ericsson. “It’s really nice to be able to stay home and have the support of family and friends nearby, but when playing juniors, you have to have a certain mentality wherever you play. While it’s nice to have family close by, it’s important to stay focused.
“We’re planning to have a successful season, but ultimately, we’re going to be measured on how well we perform in the playoffs.”
— Matt Mackinder