It’s that time of year again, Junior C hockey is back!
Here’s a look at Chatham-Kent’s four local PJHL Stobbs Division teams:
Blenheim Blades – The Blades look strong, minus a thumping in their final preseason game. They’ve got a deep offense featuring veterans such as Drew Marlatt, Dede Cato, Austin Bentley, and Nick Delyzer. Eric Stewardson will take the bulk of the games in net. Their blueline featuring John Montgomery, Brayden Seliga, Connor Shipton, and rookie Colton Shoemaker, could use a little more help, but they are a good base. The Blades stand to benefit more than most teams if the Chatham Maroons make moves, but they’ve got a deep roster top to bottom that should put them in the league’s upper half. The quick and continued development of youngsters Michael Vanek, Lucas Fancy, Shoemaker, Ethan Paxton, Joe Betterley, and Breydon Casier will be important when competing against the league’s top teams. Their outlook is good. The Blades have attempted to build a winner for a few seasons now, and are as close as they’ve ever been.
Home Opener: Sunday, September 17, 7pm vs. Wallaceburg
Dresden Kings – Losing the best Junior C player in the province, in captain and leading scorer Dillon Liberty isn’t easy but if the rumours hold true, the Kings are close to gaining a few big name veterans in Brendan Johnston and Nolan VandenBoorn. Although it isn’t a done deal, these two would skyrocket the Kings’ hopes this season and next. Considering Dresden only has one goalie on their current roster, and they have several of Johnston’s Wallaceburg lacrosse teammates, and that VandenBoorn’s brother Geoffrey plays for the Kings, the soon to be looks like a sure thing, after a release is attained from the Chatham Maroons. If it doesn’t happen, well, the Kings are still in good shape. Dresden will have a slew of veterans who will make them a competitive team night in and night out. Dresden is three lines deep of legitimate contributors, so scoring by committee, after their top line leaves the ice, shouldn’t be an issue. Even without this duo, the Kings have their deepest blueline in multiple seasons, and a quality group of forwards headlined by Kevin Ritzer, Brendan Ritchie, VandenBoorn, and Will Tetzlaff.
Home Opener: Friday, September 15, 7:30pm vs. Petrolia
Wallaceburg Lakers – It will be another losing season, but how management deals with this will make the difference. When a player wants to be traded or released…tough. That should be the model. Players can’t walk. If previous management had done this, the Lakers would have two tough lines, and be a winning team already. Wallaceburg’s has a Junior C roster work of players from the past 4 seasons all playing for other teams, or out of hockey after their experience (Colton Coates, Brendan Ritchie, Corey Lucier, Kadin Ritchie, Drew Vandehogen, Nick Tetrault etc, and Matt Clark, George Wood et al in the past). They’ve got some players with interesting potential, and a core who can stay together into the future. Adding skill up front to score will be the key. Have faith Wallaceburg, things are looking bad, but if handled well, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s time for the executive and ownership to go hands off, and let the hockey staff they’ve put in place do their job uninterrupted. Patience is a virtue, and a stubborn approach to player retention will make this rebuild truly take off.
Home Opener: Wednesday, September 20, 7:30pm vs. Dresden
Wheatley Sharks – Hard to argue with a 9-2 win over Blenheim to close out the preseason. Wheatley hasa decent group of veterans returning for the 2017-2018 season, headlined by Delaney MacDonald, Kyle Gagnon, and Justin Pinnsonneault. We don’t expect the Sharks to be in contention, or to continually blow out teams like Blenheim, but we also don’t expect them to finish last. Wheatley has struggled the last few seasons to find consistency in net, and Daniel Tonietto, who has been a journeyman in the league, will be counted on to provide that this year as an overager. Wheatley even has some added Chatham-Kent flavour this season in Ben Nichols, Parker Hammond, and Nick Tetrault to follow.
Home Opener: Monday, September 18, 7:00pm vs. Blenheim