Three-team senior hockey league ready to roll
Last seasons Herder Memorial Trophy champions Conception Bay North CeeBees. Photo by The Telegram
After an off-season of change, the Labatt Avalon East Senior Hockey League is set to begin its 2007-08 regular season.
The league will try to make a go of it with three teams this year after the collapse of the Mount Pearl Blades, creating a situation that's not perfect by anyone's standards. However, everyone is trying to make the best of it, says league president Joe Maynard.
"There's still a lot of optimism and there are two teams that are very optimistic, Torbay and Southern Shore," said Maynard. "They've both added some new players and it looks they'll be a bit better this year. The CeeBees have a number of players who won't be available until after Christmas because of work and school commitments, so a lot of first-half games could be very competitive."
The opening game of the season was held last night when the Torbay Steelers played host to C.B.N. CeeBee Stars, the two-time defending Herder Memorial Trophy champs, at Feildian Gardens.
From the Stars' point of view, the early going of the 2007-08 season could be more about survival than winning, since the team is without several regulars. Injuries are forcing Chris Crosbie, Ian Moores and Neil Cleary to watch from the bleachers, while the club is also without Chris Bartlett, Jeff Oates, Jeremy Harte, Craig Mercer and Keith Delaney for a variety of reasons. Some of these players could return to the team later in the season, according to C.B.N. head coach Ed Oates, although it's unclear how many will wear a CeeBees' jersey this year.
"Some players are still deciding if they want to make the commitment to play in a three-team league, and I don't blame them," said Oates.
The CeeBee Stars' coach admits his club could be more of a second-half team if the majority of these players return after Christmas, but in the meantime, he's pleased with what he's seen from the players he has.
"We'll be quite competitive," said Oates. "This will give some of them a chance to show me they can fill some roles they might not have been given a chance to fill."
Despite the injuries and no-shows, C.B.N. still considers itself a contender for the Herder. After all, when you've won the last two provincial senior hockey championships, you can never be counted out, says CeeBees' forward Ryan Delaney.
"Everything is pretty positive so far. Everyone is talking about a three-peat," Delaney said.
Torbay managed only four wins last season, but an overhaul of the organization has created a lot of buzz within the team. The Steelers have a new general manager in Dick Cashin, the former GM of the Corner Brook Royals, and a new head coach in Fred Walsh. The club has also added several talented players and hopes to contend for the league title this season.
"This year, everything is falling into place. I think it's a good omen," said Walsh. "We want to get to the (Avalon East) final. I don't think anything else is acceptable."
Among the newcomers to the Steelers' lineup are Manny Smith, picked up from Mount Pearl in the dispersal draft; Chris Hynes, a defenceman who played with the Deer Lake Red Wings in 2006-07; defenceman Tim Sullivan, who suited up with the Maritime Junior A league's Yarmouth Mariners last season; rugged winger Bill Brett, a former captain of the Maritime League's Antigonish Bulldogs; and Lucas Eveleigh, who won a Royal Bank Cup with the Halifax Oland Exports in 2003 and last year skated with Dalhousie in AUS hockey.
"We've got a young team and a lot of energy. The practices are really up tempo and the boys are excited (about the season)," said Walsh. "We've improved our defence and we should be able to score more goals this year."
The Southern Shore Breakers see their first action of the season today when they visit Harbour Grace to play the CeeBee Stars.
Breakers' general manager Ken Williams said his team added forwards Mark Reddy and Rick Field in the Blades' dispersal draft, additions he hopes can help make up for the loss of defenceman Adam Parsons and forward Berrick Laughlin, who moved outside the province for work.
"I see us having a strong team. We'll have as strong a team as last year and we might be able to pick up one or two players down the road," said Williams.
The Breakers' general manager added he expects the standings to be closer this year than they were last season, a result of greater parody across the board.
"With a three-team league, every team is going to get a little stronger," Williams said.
Each team in the Avalon East will play a 20-game regular season schedule, but the playoff format has yet to be determined, according to Maynard.
"One thing I can tell you is we won't have the first-place team advance to the final while the other two play a semifinal series," Maynard said. "The first-place team might have to sit around for three weeks before the final starts. And once you're sat on the bench for two weeks, well, look what happened in the World Series (between the Boston Red Sox and idle Colorado Rockies)."
Maynard said the playoff format will likely be a six-game mini-tournament, in which each team plays the other Avalon East clubs three times. The top two teams at the conclusion of the mini-tournament would advance to the league final, with the winner playing for the Herder.
The first-place team at the end of the regular season could be given as many as four home games in the mini-tournament, said Maynard, although other options are also being considered.
"We just want to reward the team that comes first," said Maynard.
C.B.N. CeeBee Stars
Home rink: S.W. Moores Arena in Harbour Grace
Game night: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Coach: Ed Oates
Key additions (former team in brackets): Mike Stevens (Yarmouth Mariners, MJAHL, 2005-06), Todd Ballah (Yarmouth Mariners, 2005-06), Tom Snow (C.B.N. Jr. Stars), Aaron Walsh (C.B.N. Jr. Stars)
Key losses: Chris Bartlett, Jeremy Harte, Keith Delaney, Craig Mercer
Southern Shore Breakers
Home rink: Southern Shore Arena in Mobile
Game night: Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
Coach: Loyola O'Driscoll
Key additions: Mark Reddy (Mount Pearl Sr. Blades), Rick Field (Mount Pearl Sr. Blades)
Key losses: Adam Parsons, Berrick Laughlin
Home rink: Feildian Gardens in St. John's
Game night: Friday, 8 p.m.
Coach: Fred Walsh
Key additions: Manny Smith (Mount Pearl Sr. Blades), Chris Hynes (Deer Lake Red Wings), Tim Sullivan (Yarmouth Mariners, MJAHL), Danny Matthews (Avalon Jr. Capitals), Lucas Eveleigh (Dalhousie University), Billy Brett (Corner Brook Royals)
Key losses: Chris Ennis