It’s not exactly a coincidence that three players on the Princeton Junior B roster grew up wearing Posse jerseys.
Given the position of the coaching staff, it’s more of a minor miracle.
“I’m really stubborn on my policy that there are no free rides on this team,” says Bill Rotheisler – repeatedly – during an interview with The Spotlight and his three home-grown players.
The issue of drafting local players was addressed when Rotheisler joined the club nearly two years ago and he insisted on “full autonomy…and no local policy.”
“It caused some stress…The general theory is that the more locals, the more support you get from the community and the more people you get out to games.”
Rotheisler says it’s “incredible” to be able to sign three players in one year all from the smallest Junior B market in the province, one whose minor hockey association can only dress one team in each division.
“These guys would have been on the team regardless,” he says. “These guys earned it.”
The Posse acquired 18-year-old Bradley Palumbo last August, in a trade with the Columbia Valley Rockies where Palumbo played for two years.
“It’s always been a dream to play here,” says Palumbo. “As a little kid growing up playing hockey here you always looked up to the Posse. It was just the coolest thing to go out and skate with them. It was like you were skating with NHLers as far as you were concerned then.”
Palumbo spent his minor hockey career in Princeton, Osoyoos and Penticton, finishing at the AA level and was excited as well to play for Columbia Valley as his father played for the same team.
In addition to fulfilling a childhood goal, he was attracted to Princeton by the coaching philosophy and player development on offer. The day he officially joined the Posse Rotheisler made the announcement on the ice at the local rink, where Palumbo was teaching hockey school.
“It was pretty good moment.”
Rotheisler characterizes Palumbo as “a very strong, passionate hockey player” who is the number-one player in the league for controlling the game. “That’s an asset you can’t replace.”
Defenseman Craig Thompson and forward Mort Johnston followed a different path to the Posse. They started in Princeton in the tyke dressing room, and began travelling to Osoyoos to play Tier Three when they reached the age of Peewee. Both skated with the team as affiliate players before being signed to the roster this fall and both worked diligently last summer with the team’s strength and conditioning coach Sean MacDonald.
Thompson remembers attending Posse spring camps “when we were little. We knew we weren’t going to make it, we were like fourteen but we just wanted to participate.”
Last year, as part of the affiliate program, he started to believe the Posse was an achievable goal. “I saw the speed and I figured I could play at that speed, that I wasn’t too far away.”
Rotheisler describes Thompson as a well-rounded player who is “already one of the fastest skaters in the league…I don’t think anyone would believe he came from Tier Three.”
Johnston is easily the player who has shown the most improvement this year, says Rotheisler, acknowledging there was an adjustment period moving from Tier Three to Junior B. “We went toe to toe a few times, butted heads,” Rotheisler laughs, possibly because at 5’11” and 175 pounds Johnston has already earned a reputation for putting up a tough fight on the ice.
“There’s a lot more work you have to put in on this team,” agrees Johnston. “Every day on the ice and the mental work, there’s a lot.”
All three of the Posse’s local players confess an interest in watching the minor Posse teams and interacting with the players. Asked what advice they would give young hockey hopefuls who may be disadvantaged playing in a small town Johnston and Palumbo share ideas about setting goals, never giving up, and following your passion.
Thompson considers the question at length and grins.
“Small town my ass.”