BERWICK, NS - Sports teams always go through changes in the offseason. But for the Valley junior A Wildcats, this summer was a complete overhaul.
Returnees from last year's team can be counted on one hand with new faces at forward, defence, goal and behind the bench, as Travis Young, an assistant coach last season, takes over head coaching duties. Nick Greenough leaves the bench to focus on his duties as the team's general manager.
Young, a former head coach with the MHL's South Shore Lumberjacks as well as player and assistant coach with Acadia, says he wants his new team to be hard working.
“The big thing this year is we really wanted to change the culture and bring in a new group of guys who are hungry and wanted to be here, and I think we've definitely got that,” says Young.
“We've got a lot of exciting young guys who are going to be big parts of the team this year and hopefully for many years down the road.”
The rookie crop is highlighted by two 16-year-olds, Riley MacInnis of Truro and Taylor Ewing of Hammonds Plains. Both are making the jump to Junior A after just one season in major midget, but each had three points in the pre-season – tied for the second most on the team.
“The two 16-year-old kids, Riley MacInnis and Taylor Ewing, they've been great right from the get-go,” says Young. “That was a big thing, getting Riley in the draft and obviously when Taylor decided to come down to camp, he fit in right away, said this is where he wanted to be and we're more than happy to have him. They bring a lot of energy and excitement, and I think the older guys feed off that. And they're great kids off the ice as well.”
Veteran leadership will come from returnees Brett Tidman, Tarek Paranica, and the team's key off-season acquisition, Hants County's Makail Parker.
“Obviously, getting Makail in the trade with Miramichi was huge. I know him well from coaching him down in Bridgewater, and he just fits everything that we're looking for in a hockey player... on the ice, off the ice, in the community,” Young said.
In the net, Valley will have a pair of young goalies recently cut from their Quebec Major Junior Hockey League teams. Young says he knows just how valuable it is to have Jacob Stewart back from the Blainville Boisbriand Armada and Cole McLaren back from the Halifax Mooseheads.
“We're very fortunate to get not only Jake (Stewart) back but Cole (McLaren) as well. I think if you looked around the league, you'd be hard pressed to find a team that's going to have a better goalie tandem than we're going to be able to put out.”
Both goalies put on super human performances last season. Stewart made 83 saves in a single game versus Miramichi, which was won by the Timberwolves on an overtime goal by Makail Parker. McLaren played in a marathon playoff game that went into a fifth overtime for the midget Wildcats last March, making 86 saves.
“We're going to have a younger team, so if you've got the goaltending, it's going to cover a lot of mistakes, and give guys a lot more confidence,” Young added.
If you go: The Wildcats play two games on the season's opening weekend. The new season begins with the home opener Sept. 15 at 7 pm. at the Apple Dome in Berwick against the County Aces from St. Stephen, NB. Then, they travel to Yarmouth on Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m. You can get live play-by-play of the road game against the Mariners for free at www.mixlr.com/jra_wildcats