Kings march into NCHL
Morinville's senior AA team makes league debut Friday in Devon
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 16, 2013 06:00 am
The building blocks are in place for the Morinville Kings to construct a championship contender in their inaugural North Central Hockey League season.
“I’m ecstatic with the talent level that we have and the camaraderie in the room already. It’s amazing,” said head coach Wayne Gatza.
The senior AA Kings closed out their pre-season in Saturday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Athabasca Aces at the Ray McDonald Sports Centre.
The weekend before the Kings edged the Aces 6-5 in Athabasca and lost 9-4 to the senior AAA Innisfail Flyers on the road.
“The boys played very well in those three games. Against AA teams, out of a possible four points we acquired three points had it been league play, so that's pretty impressive for not playing together before. Right now we’re just learning how to come together as a team,” Gatza said. “I’m extremely happy with how we’re playing. Skating and moving the puck we seem to do quite well at and special teams are good too. We’ve just got to fix our defensive zone play.”
The Kings have 33 players competing for roster spots and Jan. 10 is the deadline to declare the team’s 25-man line-up.
“We have four goaltenders, about 11 defencemen and the rest forwards,” Gatza said. “I don't have to get down to 25 right now but being around the coaching world for a while you want to be sure that you start to build your team pretty quick, especially if you want to go somewhere.”
The Kings make their regular-season debut Friday in Devon against the defending champion Barons at 8:30 p.m.
“The boys are pumped to play our first league game. We’ve been waiting for it for a long time,” Gatza said. “They look sharp in our uniforms (silver and black colours with somewhat the same logo as the NHL team in Los Angeles). They’re really excited.”
Last season Devon finished first at 14-3-1 in the six-team NCHL and won all six of its playoff games. Landon Way was the league’s top point producer with 38 in 18 games and Matt Sorochan was Devon’s leading playoff scorer with 16 points in six games.
“I’ve always said when you’re playing hockey you might as well take the best on right away and get them out of the way,” Gatza said.
A trio of ex-junior B Morinville Jets – Dalen Paul, Shaun Maslyk and Brayden Arcand, who recorded nine goals and 24 points in 16 games with Devon last season – spearheaded the attack against the Aces in Morinville.
“We’ve iced three different line-ups for three different games so our line-up will look different yet again on Friday night. I’ve got to take the best of the best from each one of those line-ups that I had and make our opening day line-up,” Gatza said.
Centre Adam Tomkow, the first captain in St. Albert Steel history, and forward Tim Nolte, a former Spruce Grove Saints’ captain, didn’t play at home against the Aces but will dress against Devon.
“We’re going to add two more players into our line-up that are going to make a huge impact for us right off the bat,” Gatza said.
“Adam Tomkow is one heck of a hockey player. He makes a huge, huge difference to our team when he’s in the line-up,” he added of the St. Albert minor hockey product who potted a pair and added two assists in Athabasca.
“Tim Nolte hasn't played a game yet. He was injured but is ready to go. He will skate at practice and then he’ll be in the game (against Devon).”
Jordan Panasiuk went the distance against the Aces after splitting time with Kyle Bailey against Innisfail. Curtis Ronaldson and Jeff Pelletier shared duties in Athabasca.
“It doesn't matter who I dress between the pipes. We’re really solid there and we’re going to turn a lot of heads,” Gatza said.
The NCHL’s nine-team format this season includes the Kings, Aces, Devon, Westlock Warriors and Slave Lake Winterhawks in the north division and the Drayton Valley Wildcats, Edson Ice, Rocky Mountain House Rams and Whitecourt Wild (home games in Mayerthorpe) in the south division.
Westlock and Whitecourt are NCHL newcomers and Slave Lake is back after a one-year absence.
The Kings’ home opener in the 18-game schedule is Oct. 26 against Westlock at 8:30 p.m.
The Kings are the first senior hockey team in more than 20 years to set up shop in Morinville.
“I’m so pleased with how it’s come together so quickly,” Gatza said. “When I first started this I wondered who was going to be our goalie and what kind of players we’ll get out. I knew that there was enough interest to have a team again but to have 54 people sign up to come out to our tryouts was great. We’ve also got some sponsors on board as well.
“To be where we are today on the eve of the season starting and seeing how well we performed so far, and were still in a tryout process, we’re very, very happy right now.”