Season comes to a crashing halt
By Doyle Potenteau
March 3, 1999
The fat lady sang loud and clear Friday night.
The Quesnel Millionaires, needing to win their final two games of the 98-99 BC Hockey League Regular Season to make the playoffs, saw their second season hopes dashed over the weekend.
The visiting Vernon Vipers doubled up Quesnel 8-4 Friday, officially eliminating Quesnel from the Interion Division's fourth and final playoff spot.
Quesnel, in fifth and four points behind fourth-place Merritt, needed to beat Vernon and Penticton in a pair of homestands while Merritt had to lose twice to lowly Trail in a home-at-home series.
After losing to Vernon, the blue, black and gold salvaged some respect Saturday night, beating Penticton 3-2 in shootout overtime and snapping an 0-7 slump against the Panthers. Jason Maxwell potted the game winner in the shootout after five undecided minutes of overtime.
In Merritt, the Centennials doubled up the Smoke Eaters 4-2 at home Friday, then lost 7-6 in a shootout Saturday.
First-round BCHL Interior Division Action will have Merritt taking on first-place Vernon. Second place Prince George will host third place Penticton.
Quesnel team captain Gerald Overton closed out his three-year junior career in Quesnel with fine style, notching two helpers Friday, then one goal Saturday to give him 106 points (41G, 65A) on the season - good for seventh in overall scoring.
Of note, the 20-year-old Williams Lake resident played Saturday's game with wild abandon, smashing players all over the ice.
Also closing out their jr careers were linemates Casey Bartzen, fourth in overall scoring with 109 pts (36G, 73A); and Jason Maxwell (26G, 40A).
Power forward Ross Crawford, converted to defence last month due to a shortage of blueliners, also closed out his jr years. Crawford notched 44 points (15G, 29A) in 59 games.
It didn't take long for the Mills' brass to hand out team hardware, as a farewell dinner was organized Sunday evening.
Overton was named MVP while Bartzen was fan favourite. Maxwell was most dedicated with Crawford named top defenceman and most unselfish. Kevin Nelson picked up two awards: top rookie and scholastic. Handing out the hardware
March 7, 1999
With the 1998-99 BC Hockey League regular Season over, the handing out of individual hardware began last week.
John McNabb of the South surrey Eagles and Lanny Gare of the Vernon Vipers were the BCHL's two big winners having been named by coaches and general managers as MVP winners on Wednesday.
McNabb, 20, was selected as Coastal Conference MVP. The left winger also won the Brett Hull league scoring title with 54 goals and 78 assists for 132 points in 58 games.
Gare played an enormous part in helping the Vipers to 52 victories, tying a league record. The 20-year-old centre and Vernon Native, who has committed himself to the University of New Hampshire next year, collected 46 goals and 65 assists for 111 points in 57 games.
Brian Maloney of the Chilliwack Chiefs was the runner-up to McNabb while Gerald Overton of the Quesnel Millionaires was the same to Gare.
On Thursday, the BCHL named its two top netminders. Vernon's Derek Gustafson was selected as the top Interior Conference goalie. The Coastal Division had a tie for the award, as Chilliwack's Wade Dubielewicz and Nanaimo's Cody Brown were named co-winners.
Gustafson led the league and nation with 39 wins. He also led the league with a spectacular 2.25 goals against average and a 93% save percentage.
Respective runners up were Prince George's Tyler Euverman and South Surrey's Peter Wishloff, who is headed to the U of Denver next fall. So Long!
March 10, 1999
I sadly write this letter to say goodbye to Quesnel. My last three years spent here were the greatest and I'll always treasure them.
Thanks to Kit and Gary Collins and the many Millionaire volunteers for all they did for me.
My billet families, the Laroques and the Youngs for making a home away from home for me. To my coaches, Ken and Brad Gassoff for all of their time and effort. My only regret is that we missed the playoffs again this year. The Mills have improved every year, so maybe next year it'll happen.
Gerald Overton Two Mills hit All-Star team!
March 14, 1999
A Pair of Quesnel Millionaires were named to the BC Hockey League's 1998-99 First All-Star Team Tuesday.
Forwards Casey Bartzen and Gerald Overton were two of seven Interior Conference players named to the 14-person team.
Also named to the team were Vernon's Lanny Gare (f), Derek Gustafson (g), and Mike Bussoli (d), plus Brad Fast (d) from Prince George and Clay Simmons (d) from Penticton.
Coastal reps were surrey's John McNabb (f) and Greg Zanon (d); Wade Dubielewicz (g) and Don Nichols (d) of Chilliwack; Martin Vozdecky (f) and Cody Brown (g) of Nanaimo; plus Victoria's Martin Kariya (f) and Jason Kean (d). Mills re-ink Gassoffs
March 21, 1999
Two weeks after signing a new contract that will see Ken and Brad Gassoff keep their Quesnel Millionaires coaching jobs through the 1999-2000 BCHL season, the two brothers started hitting the pavement for future prospects.
Ken, who will resume duties as head coach plus General Manager, and Brad, who will keep his co-coach title, were in Vernon over the weekend, scouting the provincial midget AAA championship.
The two could not be reached for comment as to how they look forward to the upcoming season and what their challenges will be.
One item the two are probably itemizing is a stay-at-home defenceman as the Mills, with 346 goals against, were one of three teams in the 14-team loop to allow 300 or more goals.
One person who did comment on the Gassoffs was Mills president Kit Collins, stating, "This is a very good day for the hockey team."
"We feel keeping the brother team of Ken and Brad at the head of our organization will lead to great things for hockey fans in Quesnel," she added.
The Gassoffs took over as Quesnel bench bosses just two months into the 1998-99 season, when management fired ex-coaches Barry Wolff and Al Novakowski after a less than impressive five win, 11 loss start.
Over the remainder of the season, one which featured several players quitting the team in response to the firing of Wolff and Novakowski, the Gassoffs posted an 18-25-1 record.
Although a losing tally, the record does not show the numerous roster changes and adversity the two were forced to deal with, often resulting in heavily shortened lineups that led to losses. Former Mills player helps take National Hockey Title
April 4, 1999
They were underdogs. They only made it into the championships by default.
The University of Alberta's Golden Bears won the CIAU national championship title and Quesnel's Ryan Marsh played a part in that victory.
"We all knew as a team that we were capable of winning. We were going into our third time (trying for the title). We'd been twice and lost and we learned what it takes it to win a championship," said Marsh in a phone interview from his Edmonton home.
Marsh, grew up in Quesnel, and played for the Millionaires in 1991 and 1992. He spent three years in Washington State playing in the Western Hockey League and subsequently one year in the pro circuit in the East Coat Hockey League in Columbus, Ohio.
The University of Alberta coach asked him to play on their team. So he went back to school to get a degree and plunged into the university leagues.
This year, they shouldn't have been in the playoffs, but they got in by a technicality. They lost in the Canadian Western Conference to Saskatoon. But as they were the host city, the Golden Bears got in on a wild card. Against all odds, they took the championship. But if determination was the deciding winning factor, maybe it wasn't such a long shot after all.
"We worked hard all year and we reached our goal," said Marsh.
Marsh plans to finish his degree in physical education at the UofA and possibly go on in a pro-hockey career, either here or in Europe. Gassoff: trying to make a difference
April 25, 1999
As the summer season approaches and the temperature rises, most of our thoughts turn to sunshine and outdoors.
But when you're running a junior hockey franchise, your thoughts are never far from your team.
For Quesnel Millionaires General Manager and Coach Ken Gassoff, his time is occupied with the chore of restocking his hockey team.
"So far this year, I've been to the midget provincial tournament in Vernon and contacted several players from there," Gassoff said, beginning his first off-season as Millionaires coach and GM.
"There's a couple of other camps, one coming up on the last weekend in April in Kelowna for prospects. Then there's another one two weeks after that, that's an invitational. Right now there are 600 hockey players going to that camp. It starts at peewee and goes through bantam and junior age players."
Ken and Brad Gassoff took over the on-ice operations of the Quesnel Millionaires last November. With the team off to a poor start, owner (team president) Kit Collins fired then coach Barry Wolff and assistant Al Novakowski, bringing in the Gassoffs.
Some on the team reacted poorly, several players quit.
"It was real tough to start with," Gassoff said. "Not knowing the league or even the players on the team, it was real tough the first month or two...I would say at Christmas time or the first month after we were involved in it, I never thought I would be back this year."
But the Gassoffs ARE back this year. Both were drafted by NHL teams: Ken by the New York Rangers, Brad by the Vancouver Canucks. Both were hard workers. And both would love to see the Mills exhibit the same type of work ethic.
"Brad and I have been out of hockey for quite a while," Gassoff said. "There's been lots of changes over the years, but the bottom line is, if you're not working on the ice, you're not going to get the job done."
"Thats what we told the players when we took over, we demand 100% on the ice. If everybody is working, good things can happen."
"It was tough last year, taking over the team. Some of them had a lot of bad habits, and it's tough to change them."
"Thats what we're hoping right from the beginning of the year, right from training camp. To instil in their minds that we expect 100, 110 % on the ice."
The Mills expect to have 5 returning 20 year olds: Rob Simnor, Craig Tresierra, Nick Udovicic, Paul Kelley, and Adrian Paolinelli.
Goaltender Seth Stetson is also expected back, and local hockey product Dean Schultz has a realistic shot at making the club in goal, after gaining some valuable experience in Junior B hockey with Cowichan Valley (Campbell River).
"We'd like a little bt of a tougher team than we had last year," said Gassoff. "Not so much fighting, but just tougher, play a little more physical. Our defense is our number one priority, we had a lot of goals scored against last year. We'd like to shore up our defense."
"We're losing the two high scorers in (Gerald) Overton and (Casey) Bartzen and that might affect us up front. But we think we'll have a more balanced team next year, right from goal on out."
Along with those returning players, Gassoff will need help in the form of fresh faces. Thats where the recruiting trips come in. After seeing the talent and narrowing it down, the club will send out invitations to camp.
"We'll begin sending out formal invitations in May," Gassoff said. "This year will probably be a bigger training camp than normal because we'd like to have a look at a different group of players.
."In our rookie camp, we'd like to have possibly 45 kids, and out of that probably 20 of them will go to main camp. We'll probably start out at the most 50 to 60 kids, more likely 45 at the main camp."
They say building a successful junior hockey franchise in a city like Quesnel can't be done. There are too many other places for players to play. But Gassoff is hoping he can get players to come here.
"I know in the past they always said they had trouble getting players to come to Quesnel," he said. "I really haven't found that so far with anybody I've talked to. We really won't know until we get the guys to camp, but most of the players seem quite receptive to come up here and try out."
"If you try to make a trade, and that player is playing in Penticton or something, well, I can see him saying I'd rather play in Penticton than Quesnel. But we're hoping that we can talk guys into coming up here and can ice a fairly competitive team."
The beginnings of next years Millionaires squad will take shape in August when the rookie camp begins followed by the main training camp.
The BCHL season will begin in September.
But right now, while the rest of us think of loading up the cooler, Ken and Brad Gassoff are thinking of loading up on young, unpredictable hockey players. The rest of Quesnel can be glad the Gassoffs are in charge.
"I wouldn't be interested in coaching anywhere else,"said Gassoff. "Brad and I both have our other jobs. As far as coaching as a career, neither one of us was ever interested. But we got involved to help out the team, hoping that we could make a difference in whether the team improves and stays in Quesnel in the future. We thought we could make a difference."
"After looking at the players we have coming back and the organization as a whole, we definitely think we can have a good team here. It's a good organization and the community is behind us. Our goal, first of all, is to make the playoffs and have a winning season, and then go from there." Millionaires turning the corner
By Kevin Parnell
May 16, 1999
Three years after joining the BCHL, the Quesnel Millionaires appear to be on solid financial footing, and are hoping that the situation on the balance sheet will make a difference in the on-ice product.
Millionaires president Kit Collins said this week the franchise will likely break even this fiscal year. "It's gotten harder and harder as we changed leagues," said Collins. "Our fiscal year-end was April 30th. There are still a few bills to be paid, but we definitely broke even."
When the Millionaires, along with the Prince George Spruce Kings, decided to move from the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League to the BCHL in 1996, they knew it would be tough. The better the league, the more more money must be spent to try and put a winner on the ice.
So far, Quesnel hasn't been able to build a winner in the BCHL, but to have a successful on-ice product, you must first have your front office in order.
That is now happening, and with longtime Quesnel residents, Ken (currently on a recruiting trip) and Brad Gassoff on board to run the on-ice operations, Collins thinks the team is heading in the right direction.
"I think the route we're going, getting local people like the Gassoff's for on ice operations is the way to go," she said.
"We've (Kit and husband Gary) known the Gassoffs for a long time. When you're in a small town like Quesnel, reputations get around: good, bad, and ugly. With Brad and Ken and their families, they have a very good reputation as people."
Unlike many franchises, the Millionaires are a community run hockey team, incorporated as a society in 1982. They have been in serious trouble a few times, missing a season once, and being in the midst of folding another.
But Collins says having the team run as a society helps keep the franchise from moving. "I'm sure there are people who wish there was a rich owner who would buy a winner," she said. "But that's not good for the long term. As a society, making ends meet is the goal. If there is a profit, it stays within the club. If times get tough an owner would be bailing. When times get tough in a society, there's more chance of people getting involved."
One of the biggest reasons for the club staying out of the red this past fiscal year is the fact that Quesnel is in the upper half of the BCHL when it comes to sponsors.
At 300 however, the club's season ticket base is something Collins would like to see increase.
"I hate trying to hold the town up for ransom, but there is an onus on the community," she said. "Season ticket prices aren't grossly expensive ($90 to $210), and it really helps the team. Realistically, for the size of the community, it could be at 500."
With the franchise breaking even, the team has now set its sights on improving on the ice. The first goal is to make the playoffs - a goal the team has had for the past several seasons.
"Our goals were crushed last year," Collins said. "We were building with Barry (fired coach Barry Wolff), but that growth stopped. Most definitely, the goal is to make the playoffs."
It's well known that Quesnel has a tough time recruiting players. The Mills are competing against bigger, warmer, and more attractive cities for young players. "Quesnel is a hard recruit," admits Collins. "But we do have a lot to offer. We aren't the big thriving metropolis of Surrey, but it's a good city. We watch over the players. Quesnel is an involved community."
Collins says there are two ways the public can help the team - become a season ticket holder, or offer a part time job to a player. "Even if a business can offer five hours a week between practices," she said. "These players are at an age where they need some income, and they need to be in the real world, because it's not just about hockey."
Not only does a team have to be successful off the ice, ownership and the on-ice operations have to be in line with each others goals and the way in which they hope to achieve them.
"Whenever we've had a decision to make (together with the Gassoffs) it's been unanimous," Collins said.
With Ken and Brad Gassoff in charge of the team for the first full year, and with the Millionaires breaking even, the time is ripe for putting together a competitive team.
But Collins said it best. "Talk is cheap, it's action that shows what you have." Overton earns full ride; heading south
By Kevin Parnell
May 26, 1999
Former Quesnel Millionarie Gerald Overton will be plying his trade in some unfamiliar territory next season.
Overton, last year's second leading scorer on the Mills, has earned a full ride scholarship to the University of Alabama-Huntsville.
Thats a long ways a way for a kid who grew up in 150 Mile House.
Alabama-Huntsville plays its games in the NCAA. They compete against the big boys of American College Sports, the Michigan States and the Bowling Greens.
"I'm looking forward to it," Overton said, "It's far away, that's the only bad thing. I flew down for a visit, and it's pretty far down there."
Overton will have some company when he heads south for his first year of US college Hockey. Steve Charlebois of the Penticton Panthers and Joel Bresciani of Vernon have also signed with Alabama.
Overton says the team has a good reputation. "One of the reasons I went to Alabama was becasue the team is well known in the NCAA," he said.
The American College game is different than the BCHL. For one, there is no red line, making the game quicker. Players also have to wear full face masks and are the players are older. "The guys are older, so they're stronger," Overton said. "From what I've watched on TV, it's pretty fast and there is lots of contact."
But perhaps the biggest changes for Overton are going to be off the ice. He will be living on his own for the first time, after being billeted for his years playing junior hockey. He will be living thousands of miles from his family. And after three years of hockey, he will be going to school full time.
"The school work might be tough because I've been out of school," he said. "But school is the important thing. That's what I've worked for. A free scholarship. I don't want to waste it."
The University of Alabama-Huntsville is an engineering school and Overton is thinking of going into mechanical engineering.
"The coaches said you have to be dedicated to school. We go away seven times during the year," he said.
"It's a smaller school. The good thing is there are only about 30 kids per class."
As for on the ice, Overton has spoken with his coaches, who are expecting him to step into the line-up his first year. "They're expecting me to step in and contribute offensively," he said. "They lost a lot of games last year by close scores."
There is no doubt Overton will be suffering from some culture shock when he begins playing hockey in the southern US.
He laughs when talking about walking to the rink in shorts because it's so hot.
And he may be able to teach the Southerners a thing or two about about snow. "If they get an inch of snow down there, the schools shut down," he laughs. "The area is flat, not like the prairies, but there are no big mountains."
Looking back on his time in Quesnel, Overton is happy.
He says he enjoyed playing in Quesnel, and being treated like a person, not just a commodity. "Everybody always talks about playing in Surrey. But there you're just a number," he said. "Quesnel treats you like a person instead of just another number."
"A lot of people involved with the team (Millionaires) helped me get the scholarship. Herb Barden (player development director), of course Ken and Brad (Gassoff).
If Overton is happy with the way Quesnel treated him, the feeling is mutual.
Millionaires president Kit Collins says it was a pleasure to have Gerald on the team right from the very beginning of his three-year career.
"Gerald was one of the first to step forward when when something needed to get done," Collins said. "When you work with someone who is a real team player, it's always appreciated. And that's what Gerald was. Not just on the ice. There is a whole picture on a team, and Gerald saw that."
One thing Gerald Overton is seeing this off-season is how much the BCHL is known around not only Canada, but the United States as well. "I don't think a lot of people in Quesnel know how good the league is," he said. "On my flight down (to Alabama), everyone knew about the BCHL. It's probably the best Tier 2 Junior League."
Although Overton will be shifting his focus from the dressing room to the classroom, he's well aware that the professional game is still within his grasp.
More and more NHL teams are drafting players from American colleges.
The college game is also more focused on practicing because games are held on weekends only, meaning a player can improve in leaps and bounds.
All of this hasn't escaped Overton, but it hasn't changed his focus either.
"It's very hard to get to the NHL," he said. "But you never know. If I improve as much as I did in Junior, maybe I can play pro. But I want to focus on schooling, that's what's going to be a sure thing." Maxwell makes it three Mills to US college
By Kevin Parnell
June 13, 1999
Former Quesnel Millionarie linemates Jason Maxwell and Gerald Overton will be on the ice together again this coming hockey season.
Both will be playing in the Independent Hockey Alliance, an NCAA division 1 conference in American college hockey.
This week, Maxwell became the third Millionaire to ink a full ride scholarship in the USA, when he agreed to attend the University of Findlay, Ohio.
Overton has signed to play with Alabama - Huntsville in the same division, and Casey Bartzen will play at Alaska - Fairbanks.
Maxwell, a native of North Vancouver, says it will be a change playing against Overton instead of with him.
"It will be different. I don't know what to expect. Should I congratulate him, or should I break his leg?" he joked.
Maxwell is the antithesis of most hockey players. He knows what career he wants and it isn't necessarily hockey.
"One of the reasons why I was a little late on the scholarship was because I really wanted to get into a physical therapy program," he said. "Not a lot of schools down there have one, and I was going to go to UBC."
But then the relatively new school of Findlay came along and offered Maxwell their final scholarship.
"When they called and said they had a scholarship, I told them that they didn't have the program I wanted," Maxwell said. "Then a couple of nights later I was on their web page and found out that they did offer physical therapy, and I phoned the guy back. I kind of got lucky."
Maxwell, a well spoken 21-year-old, will fill a need on right wing at Findlay, and will be expected to put some points on the board in his rookie year.
"They told me that they were really short on right wingers, which is why they really needed me. They haven't told me my playing time but I might be playing more that the average rookie."
Maxwell spent three years as a Millionaire, and says it was a bit of a shock coming North from the lower Mainland.
"It was a shock at first, but the town welcomed me and it was fun," he said. "I got to know a lot of people. It was like a home away from home."
There will be some more culture shock in store for the five-foot-eleven, 180 pound Maxwell, when he goes back to school in the good old USA.
"I'm pretty pumped about it. I don't know if it will all set in because I don't go down there for a couple of months," he said. "That will be quite the shocker too, when I finally go down there. It's going to be something."
This season will be the University of Findlay's first in NCAA division 1, and Maxwell will be on the first hockey team to play in its new arena, a 101 thousand square foot complex that includes an indoor track and basketball court.
For Maxwell, it will be the beginning of a new career.
"I never dreamed I would get this far, I really don't know what's in my future right now. I'm not planning to do much hockey after these four years, but I wasn't planning to play division 1 either." Changes slated for Mills lineup
By Melissa Payne
June 27, 1999
Millionaires Coach and General Manager Ken Gassoff was full of news about changes to the team's roster this week.
Gassoff announced Thursday that Jesse Martini has been traded to the Penticton Panthers, with the Millionaires getting Ryan Bremner and Jim Beckerly in a two-for-one deal.
Gassoff said that Martini was a valuable member of the Millionaires, and it was the player's own idea to leave Quesnel.
"We knew a couple of months ago that Jesse wanted to go to Penticton," Gassoff said, "becuase that's where his younger brother will be. So we worked on it from there."
Gassoff is pleased with who the Millionaires have brought home from the trade.
Nineteen-year-old Ryan Bremner is originally from Williams Lake, but he began playing in the BCHL for Penticton. "He's known as a hard-nosed defenceman," Gassoff explained. "We expect him to add a lot of depth to our defensive core. He's tough and gritty, and we're especially pleased to have a guy from the Cariboo."
The Millionaires are also getting 19-year-old Jim Beckerly through the Penticton trade. Beckerly's junior hockey experience is in his home town of Kimberly, but his BCHL playing rights were held by Penticton.
Gassoff has not actually seen Beckerly play, but says he has talked to Beckerly's past coaches and he ahs a reputation as being an offensive-minded defenceman.
Beckerly is also known as an excellent skater who moves the puck well.
Gassoff also reports that two new 'kids', both 18-years-old, from Nelson have been acquired by the Millionaires. Craig Reid and Bryan Reid, who are cousins, are coming from Nelson.