It’s not about what you know, but who you know.
When it comes to the West Kelowna Warriors, a traditionally strong, but normally not championship-calibre team in the British Columbia Hockey League, who
they knew, perhaps more than what they knew, might be the main reason they’re playing in their first-ever RBC Cup.
For when it came to acquiring their linchpin captain, Kyle Marino, who’s unfailingly navigated his underdog club through setbacks, deficits and unlikely
circumstances, it required the right connections.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I talked to his agent,” Rylan Ferster, the Warriors’ head coach and general manager, said of his captain.
“Yeah, my advisor knew Rylan,” Marino, a Niagara Falls, Ont., native, added. “I kind of wanted to go out west. Make my way into the BCHL. It was for a lot
of things. Obviously, it’s one of the most scouted leagues for the NCAA. The Interior Division and West Kelowna was obviously a big pull for me, too. I’m
with the best and I get to go against the best.
“Trenton was another team I was in contact with after that first year of Junior B. I talked to Brooks as well. Kind of funny that all three teams are
actually here at the RBC Cup.
“Rylan was a big factor in my final decision, my advisor knowing him. And the league itself. I knew we were going to be a good team; we were coming and
they wanted to make a run for it. Obviously, this is something I was drawn to. West Kelowna gave me that opportunity. I haven’t looked back since.”
Marino especially hasn’t looked back since this past winter, when one of his coach’s more astute decisions transitioned the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from
stay-at-home defenceman into one of the BCHL’s most formidable power forwards.
He had 194 penalty minutes, second among all BCHL skaters, and 14 goals, more than three times his total as a 19-year-old last season, when he arrived on
the west coast as a Junior B defenceman from Fort Erie.
“He came out to our spring camp,” Ferster said. “We actually recruited him and he made our camp as a defenceman. Sometime right after Christmas, we put him
up front. We did and he never looked back. He’s been a real solid power forward for us.
“Up front’s been an easier fit for him. The other thing about Kyle is, he knows exactly who he is. He doesn’t play the game and pretend that he’s
something’s he’s not. He’s a north-south player, up and down his wing. He’s physical. He’ll shoot the puck. He knows exactly who he is.
“But first and foremost, he brings leadership. He’s a great leader for us.”
It’s in this capacity, as the undisputed leader in the Warriors’ dressing room, that Marino’s effect on the 2015-16 Warriors has been the most profound. As
much as he’s worked his butt off to become more of an impact player, Marino still often takes a back seat from a talent standpoint to some of his more
Kylar Hope, the BCHL’s leading playoff scorer and, like Marino, committed to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, was a potent force all season, recording
74 points in 58 games.
Jonathan Desbiens, a 20-year-old out of Montreal, led West Kelowna in goals (44) and points (83), and finished sixth in BCHL scoring.
Matthew Greenfield, a midseason acquisition from the USHL’s Tri-City Storm, solidifies the Warriors in goal. Although he didn’t play enough games to
qualify as a league leader, Greenfield’s .938 save percentage in 18 games would’ve led the BCHL, and West Kelowna won 17 of its final 24 regular-season
games after his arrival.
But for all the contributions from its stars, West Kelowna relied on Marino, for his steadying presence and coolness under fire, when the pressure was
turned up and the Warriors faced their most trying moments.
The most pivotal moments of the season, when Marino’s leadership helped put the Warriors over the hump to reach their first RBC Cup, came in playoff games
against the Penticton Vees and Brooks Bandits.
First, against a Penticton team featuring two probable first-round NHL Draft picks – Dante Fabbro and Tyson Jost – Marino steadied the Warriors bench when
the heavily-favoured Vees took a 2-0 series lead. This allowed West Kelowna to run off four straight victories, including a thrilling final win in Game 6
that eliminated the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.
Similarly, after the AJHL champion Bandits topped the Warriors 4-2 in the preliminary round at the Western Canada Cup, Marino’s encouragement rallied West
Kelowna to a 6-0 blowout win over Brooks in the regional final.
“Kyle just knows what being a leader is about,” Ferster said. “The ultimate leader isn’t going to be yelling at the rookies to load the bus if we’re late.
The ultimate leader is going to be there giving them a hand. That’s what being a captain is being about. Being a captain is helping people out, not yelling
at people. Kyle will be the first guy to kick you in the bum, but also the first to help you out. That’s what I think the ultimate leader is and he’s it.
“I think it’s one thing in sports or hockey, I don’t know if the word is underestimated or overlooked. Certainly you notice when you don’t have that
leadership. We have it with him.”
With Marino steadying an otherwise talented roster, the Warriors aren’t just having their best season in team history – they have a legitimate chance at
capturing their first national championship in Lloydminster.
And as much this is due to the talent on their roster, the inside connection that landed them their captain might just be the biggest reason they have
what, for most of their players, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.