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Conducting the offense: the best Express forwards of the 2000s

 

After examining the best Express goalies and defensemen of all time, it’s time to take a look at the best forwards in Express history. Let’s start at the beginning with a look at the first decade of the franchise’s existence.

Who are the best forwards from the Express teams of 2000 to 2009? Does Stanley Cup champion and current Calgary Flames forward Milan Lucic qualify? How about Andrew Ladd, the team’s first Stanley Cup-winning alumnus?

Maybe David Jones, the team’s first true power forward? Or Mark Santorelli, brother of Vernon Vipers legend and Vancouver Canucks alum Mike Santorelli? Geoff Irwin, the team’s scoring leader in 2005-06 certainly merits consideration. As does 2007-08 team and league scoring leader Carlo Finucci.

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Brett Hemingway

Hemingway was a member of the Express in the very first season. The Surrey native had an outstanding rookie campaign in the BCHL. Hemingway led the club in scoring with 84 points on the strength of 45 goals and 39 assists. These totals were good enough to claim Coastal Conference rookie of the year honours following the 2001-02 season.

Hemingway won the club scoring title again in the 2002-03 season with 42 goals and 50 assists for 92 points. This culminated with him being selected in the 7th round, 225th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2003 NHL Draft.

Hemingway followed up his Express career with an NCAA scholarship to the University of New Hampshire. He played there for four seasons before turning pro.

Mark Soares

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog” describes Soares to a T. Despite not winning any team or league scoring titles, the Burnaby, BC product has to be included on this list.

Soares’ best offensive campaign was in the 2004-05 season where he scored 37 goals and added 23 assists for 60 points. What the stats don’t reflect is how the fans and players felt about the play of the diminutive dynamo.

Stretching the tape measure to 5 feet, 7 inches tall, and playing with the heart of a lion is what endeared Soares to fans and teammates alike. He is the only player in Express history to win the most popular player award an unprecedented three consecutive years.

Stats and trophy wins don’t define the essence of Soares entirely though. He scored some larger than life goals for the Express, and none was bigger than the overtime game winner in the 2006 RBC Cup semi-final versus the Fort William North Stars of the Superior International Junior Hockey League. Soares’ goal propelled the team to the tournament final, which it won against Saskatchewan’s Yorkton Terriers.

Soares jersey number-22 is unofficially retired by the Express and many hope to see it hanging from the rafters at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex one day.

Following his Express career, Soares played USPORTS hockey for Lakehead University and currently runs a hockey development program.

Kyle Turris

Every once in awhile a legitimate blue chip prospect and generational talent appears on the scene, taking the league and more by storm. For the Express, that player is New Westminster, BC native Turris.

Turris had a breakout rookie year with the Burnaby Express as a 16-year-old, finishing third in team scoring with 36 goals and 36 assists for 72 points. Turris easily won the Coastal Conference rookie of the year award at the end of the season.

He continued to show off his consistency in the playoffs, placing third on the club in scoring as the Express won the Fred Page Cup. Turris scored another huge goal for the Express in the RBC Cup semifinal game. Turris beat future Nashville teammate Carter Hutton, then with Fort William, with the game tying goal with 11 seconds left in the game.

If Turris’ rookie season in the BCHL was good, his second was magnificent. Turris led the team and BCHL in scoring with 66 goals and 55 assists for 121 points. The goal and point totals are Express team records that still stand today.

While the Express playoff run ended in the second round against Nanaimo in game seven, Turris’ accolades were far from being over. He ended the 2006-07 campaign being named Coastal Conference most valuable player and Canadian Junior Hockey League player of the year.

Turris entered the 2007 NHL Draft ranked as the top North American skater. When the Phoenix Coyotes selected him third overall, Turris became, and still is, the highest-ever drafted Canadian junior A player.

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Tyler McNeely

Turris wasn’t the only forward to emerge on the club after the move to Burnaby. Hometown forward McNeely also made his mark during this time.

McNeely, or ‘McNutty’ as he was known by his teammates, had a decent rookie year in Coquitlam during the 2004-05 season. He finished with 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points. He eclipsed those totals in 2005-06, putting up 30 goals and 50 helpers for 80 points. It was good enough for second on the team in scoring.

McNeely followed up his sophomore season with an absolutely stellar Fred Page Cup playoff run. He led all scorers in the playoffs with 37 points on the strength of 13 goals and 24 assists. His 13th goal came in overtime of game six over the glove on Penticton Vees netminder Corey Milan to clinch the franchise’s first Fred Page Cup.

Like Turris, McNeely also posted BCHL career highs in the 2006-07 season. He finished the season with 104 points on the strength of 32 goals and 72 assists, good enough for second on the team and fourth in the league.

McNeely was never drafted but attended Northeastern University on an NCAA scholarship following his playing days with the Express. He is currently playing for Tolzer Lowen, a second-tier club in Germany.

Some of the forwards who played for the Express during the first decade of the team’s existence read like a who’s-who of BCHL alumni. In my next article, I’ll look at the skaters up front who dominated for Coquitlam between 2010 and 2019.