SUDBURY, Ont. – The eighth of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League team season previews features the Elliot Lake Wildcats.
Under first-year head coach and general manager Gord Ouimet, the Wildcats will look to improve on last season’s 21-32-1-2 record.
With repairs to their playing venue, Centennial Arena, nearing completion the club will have a road-heavy schedule to start the campaign as they play their first five games away from Elliot Lake before returning for their home opener on September 27 vs. Blind River.
With plenty of new faces on board with an impactful group of returnees, the Wildcats will look to build character and form a strong bond with their early road slate.
Here’s a look at the squad with some thoughts and comments from head coach/GM Ouimet.
NOJHL: What expectations will you have with the team this season?
GORD OUIMET: We expect to earn a playoff position within our division, without having to fight our way through the elimination mini-series (4 vs. 5) at the end of the regular season.
NOJHL: What do you see from your team early on through practices and your preseason games?
GO: Like many teams in the league, we are almost an entirely new squad this year with many players graduating from midget hockey. We are a bit young and inexperienced, so the first month of the season will be a development period for sure.
NOJHL: Who are some of your returnees you expect to lead the way with such a young group?
GO: We have five returning skaters, plus one goaltender from last season. On defence, Robert Carr and Curtis Gervais will provide leadership to the younger corps of defencemen. At forward, our captain Connor Taylor and returning winger/centre Jaydyn Parnell will have to lead by example with positive attitude and intensity. In goal, Dominic Boily and Parker Simpson will share the net, with Dominic returning to the Wildcats for his last year of Junior eligibility. Solid goaltending will be a key to our success in the early part of the season.
NOJHL: Who are some of your newcomers you’ve been impressed in heading into the season?
GO: Newcomers, who are expected to step up, especially early in the season, are defencemen Michael Campbell (Toronto Red Wings AAA midget) and Jackson Grozelle (Brockville Tikis Jr B). We expect their experience over the past two seasons to be a steadying force on the blue line. At forward, Owen Kruse (Burlington Eagles AAA Midget) and Ethan Vanderhoff (Southern Oregan Spartans, WSHL) will add speed and a scoring touch to the offensive attack.
NOJHL: What style of play will you be looking to instill into your team?
GO: This year’s version of the Wildcats will have to rely on speed and puck movement to be effective. We are not a very big team overall, but across the board, we are a pretty good skating team. That is the strength we will have to rely on for success.
NOJHL: What are some of the club’s goals you have heading into regular season?
GO: As the regular season gets underway, we will be playing both intra and inter-divisional games in the month of September with our first five and six of seven on the road. Our goal is to win our games vs. our divisional opponents and pick up at least one win on our first northern road trip to take on teams in the Eastern Division. Overall we are looking for team growth and a steep, short learning curve to catch up to the speed and style of play in the NOJHL.
NOJHL: Any of thoughts on the team you’d like to offer?
GO: Early in the season, the defining character of the team is a strong positive attitude throughout the lineup. This will be really important as we start out the season with such a difficult schedule.
NOJHL: Do you have any closing comments to wrap things up?
GO: We played three exhibition games against a pretty good cross-section of the league. The 15 newcomers to the team were impressed with the very high energy and quick pace of play in the NOJHL. The calibre of play in the league meets all their expectations of Jr. A hockey and what this league can do to help them move toward their long-term hockey goals.