By Pat Payton
St. Marys Lincolns have 12 returnees, and more experience and confidence going into the 2019-20 Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) season. But hockey games are won on the ice, and not on paper.
A quick start is crucial for the playoff-seeking Lincs, and it all begins this weekend, Sept. 6-8, at the GOJHL Showcase in Pelham. Lincolns play Brampton Bombers of the Midwestern Conference on Friday at 5 p.m. Their second game is Saturday against Fort Erie Meteors of the Golden Horseshoe loop, starting at 8 a.m.
“I definitely see a better team,” coach Trent McClement told the Independent last week. “This year, I see more confidence. The team is meshing better and everybody is comfortable playing with each other and knows what to expect from each other. It’s a more comfortable feeling from a year ago.”
McClement would like to see the Lincs finish in the middle of the pack in the nine-team Western Conference. St. Marys (11-30-3-4) missed the playoffs for the second straight season in 2018-19.
“I don’t really have a number of wins in mind, but I would like to see us finish in the four, five or six spot,” he said. “I think we have the team to do it. The top three teams in this league have been there for a long time, and until we dethrone them I think they will continue to be up there. But there’s no reason why we can’t finish in that four, five or six spot. Right now, I would put my team up against anybody in our league.”
Deeper team in 2019-20
The head coach says one of the team’s strengths is depth.
“Our goaltending is really strong this year,” he said. “We’ve improved our defence corps, even though we only have two guys (Max Mulder and Jack Lucas) back. We’ve improved it with the kids we’ve brought in, and our forward group is just deep.
“We just don’t have one line; we have four lines. On any given night, anybody can rise to the occasion. Now, we don’t have to depend on just one line.”
McClement says he’s hoping for “scoring by committee” this season, especially with Lincolns adding talented forwards such as 16-year-old centre Ryan Burke of Lambeth.
“Young Burke is a similar player to Butchie (returning centre Blair Butchart who led the team in scoring last season with 56 points). He sees the ice really well and can set people up. Bloomer (Jacob Bloomfield) is the same type of player. We also have players like Josh Martin, Quinton Pepper, Cayse Ton, Joe Mazur, Carter Schoonderwoerd and Mason Mantzavrakos, who all have nice shots.
“So I think scoring by committee is what this team will rely on, and that’s how you have success. I think we’ll have three to four lines who can produce on any given night.”
‘Biggest thing is experience’
When comparing last season’s team to this year’s squad, General Manager Greg Smale points to “experience” as the biggest difference.
“We have 12 players with a year of Jr. ‘B’ hockey under their belts,” the GM said. “Last year, we went into the season with a combined total of 50 games played in this league, so I think the experience factor is very important going into this season.
“But we aren’t going to sugar-coat anything. Our nucleus is still made up of 17 and 18 year olds. We are young and talented, and now we have a little experience to go with it.”
Captain Butchart also sees more confidence among the group this season.
“The guys are a lot more confident, and have that kind of swagger going out on the ice,” he said. “It’s a good thing to see. The new guys are jelling really well with the returning players, and that’s important early in the season.
“All the way from the back-end and up, we’ve gotten better. I’m confident we can be a top team this year. Everybody’s excited to start the year, and I think it’s all going to be positive.”