Much has changed for the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts this season.
Their focus hasn’t.
The 2017 Allan Cup winners seem to be perennial contenders to win the Central West Senior Hockey League title and to make a run at the Herder Memorial Trophy as provincial senior champions. And despite the loss of a number of key players and their head coach of the last two years, those targets remain the same, according to the Cataracts’ acting president.
“We were national champions last year. Four of the past five years prior to that, we were the Herder provincial champions (and) we have been first-place finishers (in the CWSHL) on and off with the (Clarenville) Caribous,” Bryan Blackmore said.
“We feel confident we will be competing for the Herder at the end of the year. We set our goals as high as we can.”
The Cats will be chasing those goals without some of their top performers of recent seasons.
Two-time CWSHL top defenceman Luke Gallant and forward Colin Circelli, the league’ss econd-leading scorer in 2016-17, are gone due to the new league rule forbidding imports except for goaltenders. Gallant is playing with a senior team in New Brunswick and Circelli has taken on duties as an assistant coach with the Amherst Ramblers of the junior A Maritime Hockey League.
Also out of the picture is longtime captain Michael Brent, who Blackmore said has decided against playing because of family commitments.
The makeover extends to behind the bench. Head coach Tom Coolen, who guided the Cataracts to a Herder title last year and the Allan Cup national crown this past spring, is now in Poland, where he has taken over the helm of GKS Katowice in that country’s top circuit. He will also serve as an assistant to Ted Nolan, the new head coach of the Polish national team. Coolen formerly served as Nolan’s assistant with the Latvian national team (2012-14) and with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres (2014-15)
The Cataracts have been searching for a replacement for Coolen, said Blackmore, and he is optimistic they can land one with professional credentials. However, he would not elaborate on those efforts, only saying discussions are ongoing with a prospective coach or coaches.
“They have to review their own personal circumstances because it is a lot of work coaching, and playing, in this league,” he said.
As for last year’s assistant coaches, Paul Glavine won’t be back this season, but Blackmore said Brian Tremblett will be returning.
But even without Gallant, Circelli and Brent and the coaching staff turnover, Blackmore is confident in the Grand Falls-Windsor roster, especially with the presence of defending CWSHL scoring champ Andrew Brennan along with Danny Wicks, veteran Andre Gill, and Brandon Bussey, a trio of forwards who finished in the top 10 of CWSHL scoring last season. As well, it’s expected former Corner Brook Royals captain Michael Hynes will be available to play more games this season — he only appeared in four contests for the Cats in 2016-17.
On defence, Rodi Short, Sam Hounsell, Stephen Simms and Nick Lindstrom are among those confirmed for the season.
The Cataracts are also counting on a pair of rearguards picked up in last week’s pre-season draft — Saskatchewan native Klay Kachur, who played in junior A and senior leagues in western Canada, and former Royal Adam Guy of Corner Brook.
Goaltender Jason Stone — once an import, now a local resident — again occupies the crease, with the other half of the netminding tandem to be determined.
Alex Dalley, Michale Cole and Jeremy Bishop will also return, and Blackmore added Scotty Cantwell and Mike Vaters are expected to play with the team as “territorial picks,” players who are eligible because they played their minor hockey in a team's surrounding geographic area.
Blackmore said the Cataracts are pursuing other players who could fall into that new territorial category, including some who have played in the Maritime junior league or with other provincial senior teams.
Interlocking games ‘a godsend,’ says Cats’ top official
Despite off-season efforts to find a fourth dance partner, the Central West Senior Hockey League remains a three-team circuit, with the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, Gander Flyers and defending league champion Clarenville Caribous ready to start a new season next month.
According to Cataracts acting president Bryan Blackmore, another three-team season was only possible after agreement was reached on and interlocking schedule with the newly-formed East Coast Senior Hockey League,
“The interlocking games, as far as I am concerned, (were) a godsend for our league,” Blackmore said.
Repeated opponents and gaps in schedules — CWSHL teams regularly had idle weekends last season — didn’t make for a good combination, said Blackmore.
That changes with a 12-game interlocking schedule pitting the four ECSHL clubs — C.B.S. Blues, Northeast Eagles, Southern Shore Breakers and St. John’s Caps — against the CWSHL threesome. All 12 contests will be played in CWSHL rinks.
Blackmore also likes the idea of the inclusion of Friday night games, preferring them over Sunday matinees that had become a CWSHL scheduling fixture.
The Cataracts open their 2017-18 season on the road against Clarenville Nov. 11-12. The first home games for Grand Falls-Windsor will be interlocking contests the following Friday and Saturday against Southern Shore and C.B.S.
Each Central-West team will play a 20-game schedule, including the four-interlocking matchups.