The Orillia Terriers are eager to begin a new era Saturday night when the 2018-2019 Provincial Jr. C Hockey League season officially begins.
Last season was forgettable in every way for the Terriers as they stumbled through a disheartening four-win season, regularly losing games by lopsided scores.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat it,” said new coach Nick Ricca. “This team was an embarrassment to the league last year and that was the message I gave to the team prior to the tournament in Alliston last weekend. I told them it’s time to step up and show people what this team is about.”
The new squad, with predominantly first-year junior hockey players, showed hockey fans in Alliston that this year could be quite different.
The upstart Terriers won four of their five games and capped the annual Showcase Tournament by stunning the perennially powerful Alliston Hornets 2-1 in a thrilling overtime win in the title game.
“We told the boys after the tourney: ‘Congratulations. We’re proud of you. Walk with your chest up for a couple days but then come back (to practice) ready to work,” said Ricca, who will be joined on the bench by assistant coach Dallyn Telford. “We’re a little bit of old school. We’re tough at practice, but fair and we’re going o keep them level headed.”
This year’s team has just five returnees – all forwards. Jake Beard, Corey Miller, Owen King, Luke Charlebois and Ben Schryer are back; Beard, in his final year of junior hockey eligibility, will serve as team captain.
The rugged forward was a force at the Alliston tourney and scored both Orillia goals in the title-clinching win.
“Beard is all in this year,” said Ricca, noting he had a “heart to heart” conversation with Beard prior to the season. “Basically, it was just saying that if you’re going to be captain, that comes with a responsibility. You don’t sit in the (penalty) box for 20 minutes and you lead by example.”
Beard and Miller are playing together on a line with Josh Brown, whom Nicca said is probably the best skater on the team; they form a formidable trio.
While Ricca predicts the team will have an explosive offence, he said you can’t win without solid goaltending. His first order of business was addressing that issue.
Ricca, who coached AAA hockey with the North Central Predators for several years and formerly coached junior hockey in Toronto, learned that veteran Penetang Kings goalie Jason Cumbo had an Orillia connection.
“I didn’t want to go with two rookies … I needed a kid with experience,” said Ricca. “When I found out Cumbo went to school here (Lakehead University), I made a trade for him.”
Ricca believes in Cumbo, who had “good numbers” the last two years in Penetang. His backup will be Cam Plante, a Grand Bend native who is attending Georgian College in Orillia.
“Goaltending has been an issue here since Gordie Weiss left. We’re hoping it’s not an issue any more.”
The coach is also high on his defensive corps – despite a decided lack of junior hockey experience. He believes local fans will be impressed with Ayden Dooley, the team’s lone 16-year-old.
“He’s a 10th round pick of the Oshawa Generals and played for me with the Predators,” said Ricca, who predicts the youngster will be able to step in and play a regular role. “He had three goals in the (Alliston) tournament. He’s a big, strong kid. People will be surprised by him.”
Blueliner Matt Priest was acquired from Huntsville, where he had 24 points in 37 games last season. Predator Chris Brown will also make the jump from AAA to junior and will be joined by Cam Weeks, who played AA hockey in Barrie last year.
The team has also signed Elliot Meilleur, a Quebec native who is attending Georgian College in Barrie. Rounding out the defence is Josh Lizner, who took last year off from hockey. His twin brother, Jason, is a forward and led the team in pre-season scoring.
“I’m really not concerned (about a lack of experience on the blueline) because they’re all big, strong players and they can all skate,” said Ricca.
The new bench boss said fans can expect a fast-skating team that will work hard.
“I’m excited and I know the kids are excited to get going,” said Ricca. “Our goal is to be competitive every night.”
He concedes he would also like to add some depth and experience – but it’s not a matter of just adding bodies, he said.
“I’ve coached junior in Toronto and had successful AAA teams … this is not my first rodeo,” he says with a smile. “But this (dressing room) is one of the best rooms I’ve seen in junior hockey. I know we’re going to have ups and downs but I like what we’ve built so far.”
The Terriers will face a big challenging in their season-opener Saturday night when the reigning league champions, the Stayner Siskins, provide the opposition. Game time at Rotary Place is 7:30 p.m.
TERRIER TALES: Orillia native Nick Holenski earned his spot on this year’s team. “He came in and just shocked me with his play,” said Ricca of the forward who played A hockey in Orillia last year. The Terriers are now owned solely by Jamie Clarke. Andrew McDonald is general manager. This week, work is being done to construct stalls and refurbish the team’s dressing room. “I’m really happy with the support we’re getting from ownership and the community,” said Ricca.