MORRISBURG – After a year off due to the pandemic, junior hockey is returning to Morrisburg as the Lions drop the puck on the 2021-22 season.
The last time the Lions took to the ice was in February 2020. The team finished out its 2019-20 season in the basement of the then 10-team National Capital Junior Hockey League, with nowhere to look but up.
A year off has meant many changes for the team, which has only advanced to the league playoffs once since joining the league in 2015-16. Lance Hodgson was promoted to head coach after Ken Turnbull relocated out of the province. Jeff Hyndman joined the team as its new assistant coach, and the team added new and returning local hockey players to the roster.
“I had a really good draw of local players that came out to tryouts,” Hodgson tells The Leader.
The team has some returning veterans as part of its core, which is part of a longer-term plan by the team.
“When Kenny [Turnbull] and I came in three years ago, that was our goal. We knew we had some building to do. We had to bring some interest back in playing in Morrisburg,” he said. “Now those players are returning, Justice [Brownlee], and Wade [Moak], then adding in players like Jonah [Bennis] and Dean [Lapier], I expect some leadership from those boys.”
Returning this year is forward Brownlee and Ben Pineault, who started out in 2019 with the Char-Lan Rebels in the CCHL2. Adding to that is fellow ex-Rebel Jack Ingram, and new this season is former Rebels captain Joe Samson. Samson averaged over a point-per-game for the Rebels in 2019-20, scoring 26 goals and adding 31 assists.
South Dundas-based players are a big part of the core of this year’s Lions team. Returning this season for their second full-time season are defenceman Kayne McCadden and forward Wade Moak, who both enter their second full seasons with the Lions. Josh Broad and Owen Fetterly, who were both affiliated players in the 2019-20 season also join the team full time, as do new-to-the Lions forwards Dean Lapier and Jonah Bennis.
Hodgson added that Lapier brings a more physical-presence to the team this year, something that has been lacking in recent seasons.
Defence is another area where the Lions have added depth. Adding to McCadden, Ingram, and Justin Shay (Chesterville) is Fetterly, which Hodgson characterizes as a “really good stay-at-home defenceman.”
Goaltending has been a challenge for the team in the past few years but Hodgson said this year they have some good prospects for between the pipes.
“Luckily this year we had a great turnout for goalies. We had six to draw from,” he said adding that a pair of 16 year old goaltenders added competition for roster spots.
The league has changed with the year off. The Almonte Inferno (formerly West Carleton) are in a new home, and the league has dropped to a single division with the dispersal of the Bytown Royals.
For the Lions this means a shorter 32-game regular season and less room for errors.
“My hope for this year is to get off to a really good start,” Hodgson said. “I believe Jeff and I have had some really good players come out and with the core we have, we have some depth. It’s only a 32-game season so you can’t go on a five-or-more game slump. I feel with the core, and the goalie selection we’re bringing in, we’ll be alright and contending.”
Reflecting on when he played junior hockey, Hodgson said that the NCJHL has changed a lot, with more of an emphasis on skill, rather than the tired reputation of the league being a “goon league”.
“There’s plenty of great hockey being played at this level,” Hodgson said.
After a year off due to the pandemic, getting back on the ice for the 2021-22 season is exciting for everyone involved on the team, from management to the players.
“I grew up loving the sport, playing the sport. Just to be back in the rink. The smell of the Zamboni fumes. The sounds of skates hitting the ice. It’s great to be back,” said Hodgson. “As I told the players, let’s just keep it moving forward and play the game we all love.”
The Lions drop the puck on the regular season campaign October 2 at the Slush Puppy Centre in Gatineau against the Metcalfe Jets.
This game is the first of four away games which see the team play against the Vankleek Hill Cougars (Oct. 3), North Dundas Rockets (Oct. 9) and South Grenville Rangers (Oct. 16).
The Lions’ home opener is set for October 23 at the Morrisburg Arena, puck drop at 7:15 p.m.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader