GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL — The Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts are perennial contenders to win the Central West Senior Hockey League, claim another Herder Memorial Trophy, and take another run at an Allan Cup.
Despite many changes for the 2017-2018 senior hockey season, the goal is the same this year, according to current acting president Brian Blackmore.
“We were national champions last year. Four of the past five years prior to that we were the Herder provincial champions. We have been first-place finishers on and off with the (Clarenville) Caribous,” Blackmore said.
A first-place regular season finish in the Central West league, a successful playoff run against Clarenville and the Gander Flyers, and capturing another Herder Memorial Trophy is the goal — if not the expectation for the club.
“We feel confident we will be competing for the Herder at the end of the year,” Blackmore said. “We set our goals as high as we can.”
The Cataracts will have some things to overcome to reach that goal.
The Cataracts have some roster changes, most notably the absence of imports Colin Circelli and Luke Gallant due to a change in league import rules. Now, only goalies can be brought in from outside the province to play for a team in the league, according to Blackmore.
While the loss of one of their top forwards and defencemen creates a major hole in their lineup, it is something each team in the league will contend with due to the rule change.
Perhaps more significant is the loss of the team’s captain, Michael Brent, who the acting president said will not be playing this year because of family commitments.
Blackmore is confident in the returning members of the roster, though — led by regular season leading scorer Andrew Brennan, veteran sniper Andre Gill, elite defenceman Rodi Short, Brandon Bussy, and former Rookie of the Year Danny Wicks.
The team has confirmed Alex Dalley, Sam Hounsell, Stephen Simms, Nick Lindstrom and Jeremy Bishop will return. The expectations are that former Corner Brook Royals captain and elite scorer Brandon Hynes will be available to play more games this season.
Jason Stone will return to the crease for the Cataracts. The remainder of the goaltending tandem will be announced later.
To help fill the void in the roster, the Cataracts turned to the league draft and selected a pair of defencemen — former western Canadian junior and Saskatchewan senior hockey player Klay Kachur, and former Royals’ player Adam Guy of Corner Brook.
Blackmore also said two former Cataracts products are expected to play with the team as “territorial picks” — defenceman Scotty Cantwell and Mike Vaters. The acting president said the team is pursuing other possible players who fit within the territorial picks criteria.
Head coach Tom Coolen has parted ways with the Cataracts to pursue a coaching opportunity with the Poland national team. The Cataracts have been searching for a replacement, said Blackmore, and as of last week were optimistic they could land a replacement with professional credentials. He would not elaborate on details while discussions are ongoing.
“They have to review their own personal circumstances because it is a lot of work coaching, and playing, in this league,” he said. “Every weekend you are away from home.”
Assistant coach Paul Glavine will not be returning to the bench, according to Blackmore, but Brian Tremblett will resume assistant coaching duties.
Blackmore confirmed the Central West Senior Hockey League was as close to folding this year as reports indicated. He said they were all in agreement a three-team format would not go ahead again this season.
With no additional teams entering the mix, an interlocking schedule with the newly formed East Coast Senior Hockey League saved the season, according to the acting president.
“The interlocking games, as far as I am concerned, was a Godsend for our league,” he said.
Gaps in schedules and repeated competition of a three-team league were not a good combination, said Blackmore.
A 12-game schedule has been established pitting the four east coast teams — C.B.S. Blues, Northeast Eagles, Southern Shore Breakers and St. John’s Caps — against the three central west teams. The east coast teams will travel to play their central league counterparts.
Competition against the east coast teams should lead to a better product of hockey for both the players and fans, according to the acting president.
Blackmore also likes the idea of some Friday night games, preferring them over the Sunday matinees the league had grown accustomed to.
With the 2017-2018 season around the corner, he said the Cataracts are expected on the ice before the end of the month. The behind-the-scenes work has also been successful, he said, with the community and businesses showing their support of senior hockey again this year.
The financial aspect of senior hockey is always worrisome in this province. Blackmore said the local community continues to allow the Cataracts to ice a competitive team.
The Cataracts open the season on the road against the Clarenville Caribous Nov. 11-12. Each team will play a 20-game schedule, including the four-interlocking games each.
Saturday, Nov. 11 away against Clarenville Caribous
Sunday, Nov. 12 away against Clarenville Caribous
Saturday Nov. 18 hosting the Southern Shore Breakers
Sunday, Nov. 19 hosting the C.B.S. Blues
Friday, Nov. 24 away against the Gander Flyers
Saturday Nov. 25 away against the Clarenville Caribous
Saturday, Dec. 2 hosting the Gander Flyers
Sunday, Dec. 3 hosting the Gander Flyers
Friday, Dec. 8 hosting the Clarenville Caribous
Sunday, Dec. 10 away against the Gander Flyers
Saturday, Dec. 16 hosting the Clarenville Caribous
Sunday, Dec. 17 hosting the Gander Flyers
Saturday, Jan. 13 hosting the North East Eagles
Sunday, Jan. 14 hosting the St. John’s Caps
Saturday, Jan. 20 away against the Gander Flyers
Sunday, Jan. 21 hosting the Gander Flyers
Saturday, Feb. 3 hosting the Clarenville Caribous
Sunday, Feb. 4 hosting the Clarenville Caribous
Friday, Feb. 9 away against the Clarenville Caribous
Saturday, Feb. 10 away against the Gander Flyers