Junior hockey is back.
And that is music to the ears of aspiring young players who hope to help the Orillia Terriers make their mark this winter as action in the Provincial Junior Hockey League returns.
“We are super excited that the City of Orillia is allowing us to play hockey this year,” said Terriers general manager Andrew McDonald.
That was up in the air less than three weeks ago. But the team finally got the green light to return to the ice after a year on the sidelines due to COVID-19.
The Terriers open the season tonight in Alliston and battle Stayner Saturday night at Rotary Place in their home opener.
The return to the ice, however, is not a return to normal.
The city, working hand-in-hand with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, has capped the number of fans per game at 250. Players are only permitted to arrive 30 minutes before they hit the ice and while showers will be permitted post-game, it’s cold water only, said McDonald.
“Is it perfect? No. But the boys are just happy to be able to play again,” he said.
McDonald said “junior hockey was decimated by COVID-19.” He estimates that 20% of players - at all levels - have decided, for a variety of reasons, not to return to competitive hockey.
“That has opened up a lot of opportunities for local hockey players,” said McDonald.
And they have answered the bell. McDonald said this year’s Terriers squad is stocked with “good local players.”
In fact, there are only six players returning from last year’s squad that McDonald said was the best team the current ownership group had ever assembled. He said “it’s a shame” the season was wiped out - especially for those players who are now too old to play junior hockey.
While there are a lot of new faces, McDonald said he’s hoping the team can finish among the top four in the division, but stressed Alliston and Stayner are both - again - forces to be reckoned with.
The GM said the strength of his squad could be between the pipes.
“I believe we have the best goalie tandem in the league,” he said of returnees Wade Monague and Reed Spinola.
However, the young defence will likely be a work in progress.
“We are looking to bolster the back end with some veteran blueliners,” said McDonald.
While it won’t be easy to rebuild on the fly, McDonald said it’s the blueprint the team will adhere to.
“We want to develop players,” he said, noting seven players from last year’s team have graduated to higher levels of hockey. “We’re so proud of that.”
He said he hopes fans will come out to cheer on the team which will have a decidedly local flavour this year.
Beware: You must show proof of vaccination to enter Rotary Place to watch the Terriers play.
“Those are the rules,” said McDonald, noting fans will have to provide proof of vaccination and identification.
He said tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. You cannot pre-order tickets. The first 250 fans will be allowed in.
Cost is $9 for adults and $6 for students and seniors.
For home games, tickets will begin to be sold at 7:15 p.m. Warmup will start at 7:30 and the games will start at 8 p.m.
The team’s home opener is Saturday night against perennial powerhouse Stayner.
Here’s a look at this year’s roser:
Between the pipes, Wade Monague and Reed Spinola are expected to share the goaltending duties.
Up front, the Terriers offence will be in the hands of forwards Broderick Black, Josh Brown, Jayden Murison, Noah Mountain, Kaiden Robitaille, Austin Holenski, Devin Edmonds, Owen Van Dusen, Rylan Moulton, Noah Sands, Jack Ahern, Mason Beck and Sam Pink.
On defence, Isaiah Philip, Jonah Sands, Lucas Wessinger, Kaden Goggins and Caleb Sands will be on the blueline.
The Terriers are coached by Dalyn Telford and assistants Mike Telford, Anders Lee and Dave Kelly.