NOJHL preseason preview: Cochrane Crunch

SUDBURY, Ont. — Averaging nearly 36 wins per season in their first four years, the Cochrane Crunch have quickly become a solid success in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Under the workmanlike efforts of team president, general manager and head coach Ryan Leonard, the entire Crunch organization has reaped the benefits in forming a successful hockey club.

With a preseason-opening win under their belts and set to host their annual Polar Bear Classic tournament this weekend, the defending NOJHL champions from Cochrane can also look forward to hosting the 2019 Dudley-Hewitt Cup at the Tim Horton Events Centre as well.

With contributions from each of its 12-member clubs, the league’s latest team preview Q&A today features the Cochrane Crunch.

NOJHL: What are your expectations for the club heading into the 2018-19 season?

RYAN LEONARD: Our expectations are high coming off our first NOJHL championship. Being able to play last year in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup we now know what we are in for and are excited to start working towards our second appearance and not just as host, but as a NOJHL champion once again. That has been our goal during the off-season during our recruiting process. Last year at the Dudley we were always the better team but just couldn’t buy a goal and kept the scores very low and outshot most teams pretty handily.

NOJHL: Give us your thoughts on what you’ve seen with your club early on.

R.L.: The boys have been hitting the ice hard so far in our ice sessions. You will see a much faster, four-line balanced team. Last year we were deep, but now we have all four lines as good as our first and second lines last season. Our team is much bigger than last year and we were big before. We need to use that to our advantage as well. It will take some time for them to gel. Our back end still needs some work. We are very big and have some heavy shots, but need to work on our speed. That will come with games played and practice.

NOJHL: Who are some of your returning players you expect big things from?

R.L.: With only five players returning we do have a lot of work to do to get on the same page as I like to run an all-out fast tempo offensive game. It will take time for the players to learn our systems and routes. The players we do have back are key players that played big roles all season long for us with the likes of Caleb Dolman (7g-20a-27pts); Zach Hayes (7g-14a-21pts); Nicolas Flanders (13g-34a-47pts), Austin Whelan (16g-21a-37pts) and goaltender Shayne Battler (17-7-1-1-2.73GAA-.910SV%).

NOJHL: Who are some are your new players that you’ve been impressed with early on?

R.L.: Defenceman Ryan Mooney has come in and shown leadership right from the start. Ryan is smooth skater smart and is very vocal with our team after spending two years spent in Moncton in the QMJHL. He will help our program all season long. Up front newcomer Justin Bofshever has shown he is capable of being a force in the NOJHL he has seen time in the USHL and NAHL over the last three seasons. Hunter Buzzi, who we traded for two weeks ago has very good offensive vision and in practice and scrimmages he has scored some beauties. Jacob Stos who has played a year and half in the OHL with Sarnia and last season in the GOJHL with Niagara has shown great vision and grit along with a hard shot. All three of these guys have shown that they can be very capable of scoring 25-plus goals this season. We also signed 16-year-old forward Owen Perala from Nipigon, Ont., who played AAA minor midget last year Vaughn. He has shown so much maturity on and off the ice for a young man. He is someone that will do well and probably only see this season in the NOJHL prior to moving on to major junior.

NOJHL: What are you looking to build upon from last season’s championship-winning team?

R.L.: We look to build on our experiences that we had last year and for this year go even farther with us hosting the Dudley-Hewitt Cup. Maybe a Dudley-Hewitt win at home and a trip to the nationals, but the NOJHL is highly competitive. It can get exciting in our league as there is so much talent and good teams you have to beat to get there.

NOJHL: How have the Dudley-Hewitt Cup preparations and planning been going?

R.L.: The Dudley-Hewitt Cup committee has been working very hard during the summer trying to lay down the basis of all areas. This will be a Dudley-Hewitt Cup that we want to be proud of and hope that we can set an example for others.