Few big changes, but some nice surprises so far this season

Darcy MacRae
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Mount Pearl continues to top standings, Mooney still leads all scorers

It's said the more things change, the more they stay the same, and this logic seems to be spot on in a couple of departments when it comes to the early going of the Cooperators St. John's Junior Hockey League.
Roughly a third of the way through the 2007-08 regular season, the standings don't look a whole lot different than they did at the end of last year. In the Avalon Division, the C.B.N. Stars and Bell Island Blues continue to fight for top spot, while the Mount Pearl Blades again sit atop the City Division, although they are currently tied with the Celtics for first place.
In Mount Pearl's case, it's able to stay consistently strong thanks to the high number of players who attend tryouts each season, according to Blades' coach Jim Hare.
"One reason we're successful is we have a good number of kids coming through. It's a credit to the Mount Pearl minor system and in particular the midget system," said Hare. "We try to bring some new players in every year, this year we have five first-year juniors. If you replace your overagers with these guys, you should be able to be fairly consistent each season."
Although C.B.N. is once again fighting for first place in the Avalon Division, its 4-5 (wins-losses) record is not as impressive as the 19-10 mark it put up last season. However, Stars' coach Brian Hurley said this is partly due to the fact he hasn't finalized his roster yet and has been giving a lot of different players some quality minutes so far this season.
"It's really an extended tryout," said Hurley. "We've been giving a lot of new players some games, having a look at them. We plan on picking up a couple players and should be down to the players we'll be using every night really soon ... We're where we thought we might be. We knew we wouldn't be on top at the beginning of the year, but with everybody making the playoffs there's no pressure."
A couple of weeks ago the Stars shocked many in the junior league when they traded captain and leading scorer Daniel Sparkes to the St. John's Caps, a move that easily tops the list of biggest trades of the 07-08 campaign.
"We didn't think our players were focused enough and wanted to send them a message," said Hurley. "I think it got the message across."
The Stars received a pair of draft picks for Sparkes, including the first pick in the second player draft of the season, which goes tonight. At first glance it appears C.B.N. received little in return for arguably its top player, but when Hurley reveals his team will select Andrew Reid with the first pick tonight, things make a little more sense.
Reid was named the most valuable player in the provincial major midget league in 2005-06 when he played for the Western Kings and spent last season playing junior hockey in Corner Brook. The Rocky Harbour native should make an immediate impact and could quickly become one of the league's top scorers.
"We think he can be," Hurley said.
A look at the league scoring race may cause a case of deja vu, since last year's scoring champ, the Celtics' Chris Mooney, is once again the leading point-getter in the St. John's junior league, with 15 goals and 11 assists in 10 games. According to Celtics' coach Chris Bartlett, this development should surprise no one.
"My expectations for him were very high. He's a well rounded player and he definitely brings a lot of attributes to our team," said Bartlett. "Not just scoring either, he's got a great work ethic and is a good defensive player. I think he's the best player in the league and I think it's s shown the last two years how much he's grown as a player and a person."
While Mooney's numbers won't shock anyone, the stats put up by Celtics' goalie Adam O'Brien are likely to surprise a few junior hockey fans. O'Brien is 5-0 and leads the league in goals-against-average (2.60) and save percentage (.924). These numbers are a far cry from O'Brien's stats a year ago, when is average was 5.14 and his save percentage was .839.
"Adam is more focused this year, plus we have another goalie (David Parsons) this season pushing him to continue playing well, or he won't be playing," said Bartlett. "We're better defensively this year and Adam is trying to show people he can be the consistent goalie that maybe he wasn't always last year."
After several seasons of finishing in the middle of the pack, the Celtics are in a dog fight with the Blades for control of the City Division this season. With a lineup featuring several experienced junior players, chances are the Celtics aren't going to drop in the standings any time soon.
"We felt we should be in the top three (this season)," said Bartlett. "We're used to being in the middle of the standings, but everybody in on the same page this year and we want to be near the top spot."
Overall, most people associated with the local junior hockey circuit seem pleased with what they've seen so far, especially league president Gerry Taylor. The long-time junior hockey boss takes in as many games as he can each weekend and says he sees an improved on-ice product this season.
"We think the calibre of play is up this year," Taylor said. "A lot of it has to do with Hockey Canada's crackdown on obstruction, it's making the games a lot faster. The kids are playing good hockey without the goonery. It's good, fast, hard hockey."

Organizations: Celtics, Avalon Division, Junior Hockey League

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, St. John's, Corner Brook Rocky Harbour

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