There will be changes, but Clarenville Caribous fans can still expect to see many of the same faces in the team's lineup this season as the team looks to defend its West Coast Senior Hockey League and Herder Memorial Trophy provincial championships.
Caribous' general manager Derek McPhee said there are still a couple of holes to fill before the drop of the puck on a new year Oct. 31. That was evident during an exhibition game against the Mount Pearl H.J. Bartlett Electric Blades of the Avalon East league last week at the Glacier, where Clarenville skated to a 7-3 win using only three line combinations.
Last year's imports, Dan Rogers and Jordan Smith, have been replaced with two former major junior defencman - Travis Chapman, who spent three season in the OHL before playing at St. Mary's University and David Victor, who spent two seasons with the QMJHL's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Chapman is from Ottawa, while Victor hails from Manitoba.
Rearguard Jon Ball is also gone, having joined Mount Pearl, but McPhee believes he has filled the void with young blueliners Brad Bussey and Fred Earle.
Earle skated with the C.B.N. Slateworks Stars of the St. John's Junior Hockey League last season. Bussey, from St. John's, played with Kanata of the Central Ontario tier 2 junior league last year.
This year, the Caribous have a new junior affiliate, the St. John's Toyota Plaza Junior Capitals.
One player who doesn't figure to be suiting up for the Caribous is forward Mark Chaplin, who was second on the team and sixth in the league in scoring (20 goals and 38 points in 21 games) last season, While nothing is official, McPhee says it doesn't look like Chaplin will be returning to the Herd.
"He hasn't attended any of the practices in St. John's and we've had no communication with him," McPhee said.
Last year, the Caribous went with a short bench to start the season and did well in most games, notes McPhee. This year he says he's not going to be pressured to fill the roster just yet.
"There are still some holes to be filled," he said. "Right now, I'm talking to three or four forwards and hope to settle on a couple of guys in the next few days."
The final roster doesn't have to completed until Jan. 10, and McPhee says he will continue to monitor the team to determine which areas need strengthening.
There are some that feel now is the time to fill the holes. McPhee doesn't see it that way.
"I'm not going to bend to that pressure," says the general manager.
"As weaknesses or holes become apparent, you can plug them. I'm also looking at the fact that we could have injuries or players may decide that school is more important.
"I'm not sure how that's all going to play out. But we're still talking to players. So at least if I hold off on completing the roster, I have some leeway."
New digs await
With the new Clarenville Events Centre expected to be ready for opening night, McPhee says the team and the community are looking forward to an exciting season of hockey.
"The home opener will be special, not only for the players but the entire community," he said. "Now we have to put in place a program because we have to raise the banners and introduce the team and all the hoopla that goes with it.
"And, hopefully we can repeat."
The Caribous' opposition in their first home game will be the Deer Lake Red Wings, the team Clarenville defeated to clinch the WCSHL title last spring.