Hope Chopper Johnny Shewchuk makes an acrobatic leap to play a ball in last season's game against Langley Concrete. The Choppers lost a number of players over the summer but have rebuilt the team and are ready to start the Chilliwack men's rec season on Sept. 17.

Soccer season a test for rebuilt Choppers

This year — with a big rebuild and only half of the team being made of returnees — the Choppers are going into their fifth campaign with an intention to maintain a committed core of players.

Their last season in Chilliwack men’s rec soccer started and ended with impressive performances. It was the middle part that too often came up flat for the Valley Choppers .

This year — with a big rebuild and only half of the team being made of returnees — the Choppers are going into their fifth campaign with an intention to maintain a committed core of players.

“We had a strong start to last season with great efforts from everyone and good commitment as well,” said second-year Chopper James Roksa on Monday. “We finished the season even better, making it to the semi finals where we lost a hard fought battle against Old Settler [who went on to win the cup].

“But I think we struggled with our consistency to have the same core group of players on the field  through the middle of last season,” added Roksa. “I believe that with the commitment of our core group as well as our newly acquired players, we have the potential to have a strong year, start to finish — and do as well as or better than last year. Let’s keep it up, boys, and leave it all on the field!”

During the summer, players had an opportunity to state their intentions about playing in the coming season.

Returning players who have pledged to make most games include keeper, Kyle Kjemhus, James Roksa, Tai Palladino, Johnny Shewchuk, Daniel Arrowsmith, Geoff Lundgren and myself. A total of fourteen have committed to attending the majority of games and seven others have pledged to play on a part-time or as-needed basis.

Among the player losses, captain Al Berry has moved with his family to Vancouver Island and will be a hard one to replace. His leadership and skilled work in the midfield were a key part of many of the Chopper wins in the previous four years.

Also gone are the two Long brothers, DJ and Ryan, who were a dominant scoring duo in the games they attended. DJ has joined a Division 1 men’s team in Chilliwack.

Rosedale-based friends Dan Klop and Andrew Overbeek joined the Choppers in Year 2, after being turned down by the Chilliwack Young Guns. Over the summer, they were invited to join the ‘Guns, leaving holes at both ends of the field.

The back line needs extensive retooling, with four defenders pulling back to part-time status. Veterans Garry Arrowsmith, Bruce Becker and Sitwala Muhongo will be on an as-needed basis and Ross Garrett’s job clashes with Saturday games, so he’ll only be available for midweek make up games.

The Choppers are picking up speed and skill from past or present HSS students who have joined the team this fall. Yvon McKay has been working out with the team over the past few summers and has developed patience and craftiness in his ball-handling. McKay is in grade 12 this year and plans to play for the Mustangs during the week and Saturday soccer with the Choppers.

Cam Friesen  is new to the team but a familiar face on the pitch, having played Hope Minor and Mustang soccer. His speed and hell-bent attacking style should cause havoc for the opposition. The Choppers are hoping for a mild winter, though, as Friesen says he’ll be a regular, “Until snowboarding season starts.”

Keeper Kyle Kjemhus — one of only a few remaining charter members of the team — helped with the summer membership drive by inviting fellow 2006 grad Ray Douglas to sign up. Douglas’ height and speed should help at either end of the field.

Kjemhus also connected with Andrew Tarrant, a new social worker in Hope, who brings years of experience and a good touch on the ball — as well as a Scottish accent. Accents have great cachet on the soccer field.

A carload of Choppers were making the trip down to Chilliwack through the summer for Toonie Tuesday rec league drop-in nights. New players who were looking for teams were encouraged to come out and show their stuff and the Choppers picked up two new members there.

Matthew Jarvis has 30 years in the game and played at the provincial level in Ontario. His main position is striker and he says he’s, “looking forward to scoring a bunch of goals this year.”

Ralf Lubben grew up in Chilliwack and spent his summers in Hope when he was a teenager. He and his family have recently returned to Chilliwack and he looks forward to helping the defenders or midfielders this year.

Former Choppers returning to the fold are Ryan Ward, who has done spot duty for the team in past years but sees his Saturdays being free this season. As well, Al Overbeek is back after a year of rehab on a knee injury and Agassiz resident Scott Anderson rejoins the Choppers after a few years’ absence.

The season begins on September 17, with eight teams — up from six last year. Fans can track  the team’s progress at leaguelineup.com/welcome.asp?url=chwkmsl .