COQUITLAM - The Coquitlam Express' lineup got treated like a James Bond martini - shaken, not stirred - during the Jan. 10 B.C. Hockey League's trade deadline last week.
With the club struggling at 17-21-1 and a single point out of the final playoff berth, head coach and general manager Jon Calvano reacted by moving scoring leaders John Siemer, Philip Zielonka and captain Mitch Nardi for some younger pieces and that deadline favourite "future considerations."
The deals, part of a major shakeup that is expected to set the team on stronger footing next season, were not the complete white flag sale that they appear, Calvano said.
"We're still going to make a push for that playoff spot, and whatever happens is really up to us. We still control our own fate," noted Calvano, who made four separate deals on the day.
He moved Siemer, the team's top scorer and third-highest point getter in league scoring, to Interior Division-leading Penticton for future considerations. The 20-year-old, a second-year Coquitlam player and California native, had 20 goals and 29 assists over 37 games. The Express then traded one of the league's hottest snipers, Zielonka, to archrival Chilliwack for defenceman Ben Israel and forward Garrett Forster, plus futures. Since joining the Express in October, the 19-year-old Quebec native had accumulated 20 goals and 13 assists over 24 games.
Nardi was dealt to West Kelowna for future considerations. The team captain had struggled offensively in Coquitlam, tallying just five times and setting up 20 others over 35 games after racking up 14 goals and 44 points as a rookie the year before.
Nardi and Zielonka made immediate impacts with their new clubs, scoring twice over the weekend. All three were slated to move on to college hockey after this season.
Coquitlam also picked up the playing rights to Lars Hepso and Western Hockey League veteran forward Adam Rossignol from Alberni Valley for future considerations.
Moving the team's top three scorers was a difficult decision for Calvano, and he admitted it was reflected inside the dressing room, where many of the remaining players were initially shocked and depressed.
"Obviously we made changes and we didn't know how the guys would react. They reacted the way we expected, we were down 2-0 early and got outshot (by Merritt)," he noted of Friday's game, where the Express managed just nine shots over the first 40 minutes but still pulled out a 5-4 overtime victory.
"We're going to be a team scoring by committee as it looks, maybe not one top line but everyone has to rely on each other to come in and get some greasy goals. Everyone has to play a role and take a different mindset. We can't give up, we can't pack it in."
Although many could say the club was resigning itself to a major rebuild, converting three key talents for younger players and the undefined future considerations, Calvano said the three players who have joined the club - Forster, Israel and Rossignol - will take on key roles this year. Forster and Israel will be major contributors next year, too.
"Ben's a gritty defenceman, maybe a little undersized for the modern-age defence. But in this league he's tough, he threw some big hits (against Merritt), has good puck skills and played on Chilliwack's second powerplay unit... Forster is a speedy guy with good skills and a good shot. He's tenacious and works hard and lasted a year-and-a-half with Harvey (Smyl) in Chilliwack. We're hoping he can grow into a big role with us and become an all-star here."
The club continues to have bad luck, after losing Ben Majka during the Merritt game to a possible season-ending knee injury. Three of its affiliate players have also been sidelined with injuries, limiting who they call up to fill in a depleted lineup.
The Express have 17 games remaining in the regular season, and trail Langley for the final playoff berth by one point. The Rivermen, however, hold two games in hand.
The two teams meet Friday, 7 p.m. when Langley visits the Poirier Sports Centre.
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