Merchants red hot
Junior B team is 8-0-1 to start the season
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 19, 2013 06:00 am
The St. Albert Merchants are off to their quickest start since going 36-0 as the 1997 Founders Cup champions in the Capital Junior B Hockey League.
The Money Men improved to 8-0-1 after doubling the North Edmonton Red Wings 4-2 Wednesday at Londonderry Arena.
“We’ve tried not to get too far ahead of ourselves and too confident. We’re just trying to be really humble about how well we’ve been playing. If we don't get too cocky we can maintain the pace that we’ve been at,” said captain Kurtis Watts.
The Merchants broke up a 1-1 contest on goals by Dan Rombough on the power play 56 seconds into the third period, Stefan Meunier at even strength with about 10 minutes to play and Jordan MacPhee’s unassisted shorthanded marker into an empty net with 1:36 remaining.
The Red Wings (6-2) closed out the scoring with sevens seconds to go.
Jed Groenenboom picked up two assists in the team’s eight-straight victory after dropping a season-opening 6-5 decision to the Morinville Jets (4-3) in St. Albert.
Shots were 39-28 for the Merchants, including a 15-9 margin in the third. In net was Justin Pawlenchuk (6-0, 2.60 GAA), a first team all-star last season.
“It was closer than any other game we’ve played and we had to step up and just show what we can really do,” said Watts, who assisted on Josh Jewell’s sixth goal in six games in the first frame. “I feel we could’ve played a little bit better than what we showed. We did face some adversity because we weren't used to playing in a close game like that but the way we played in the third period really indicates what made us successful early on in the year.”
The west division leaders averaged 6.6 goals scored before the Red Wings held them to their lowest total of the season
“We seem to have the right combination of skill and grit and we’re basically able to out-muscle teams down low as well as bury our opportunities,” Watts said.
The addition of forwards Connor Hoekstra (nine goals and 13 points) and twins Liam and Mitch McNamara (five goals and 14 points combined) from the Alberta Junior Hockey League gave the offence a big boost.
“Picking up players of that calibre is definitely going to help our team. It just brings everyone up,” said Watts, a defenceman who has one goal and three assists.
Veterans like Casey Reid (13 points) at forward and Rombough (11 points) on defence have also contributed significantly scoring-wise.
They are among 14 returning players from last season’s thrilling playoff run that ended one win short of going to the Founders Cup final as one of two CJHL reps at provincials.
“We were able to bring the guys that joined our team this year into the Merchants’ family right from the start of the season and that’s also helped with how we’ve done at the start here,” said Watts, who is joined by Pawlenchuk, and forwards’ Meunier and Ryan Harrison as the team’s four 21-year-old overage players.
This is Watts’ first season as the Merchants captain.
“We’ve got a great group of guys and a lot of leaders on our team and obviously we have a lot of good players on our team too so for the coaches to look up to me in this regard and my teammates as well to look up to me as the captain is really honouring,” said the bachelor of commerce student at MacEwan University.