Interest is high in the St. Albert Merchants after consecutive first-place pennants in the Capital Junior B Hockey League.
The Money Men unveil their new lineup this weekend against the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks on Friday at JRC Arena and the Beverly Warriors on Sunday at Akinsdale Arena. Game times are 8 p.m.
“We’re getting down to our roster so some of the stress associated with camp is kind of leaving and now it’s just looking forward to the season opener,” said head coach Scott Rodda. “We had a really good practice (Sunday) with lots of jump in the skates. The boys are quite excited. We do have a lot of rookies and they’re extremely enthusiastic and keen and ready to go, as are the vets.”
The roster is still not set in stone with 20 players in the mix, including four over-agers (21-year-olds): netminder Ty Clelland, defenceman Jared Kwasney, forward Casey Reid and captain Dan Rombough on defence.
Reid led the Merchants in scoring with 55 points in 33 games and his 22 goals and 33 assists were the second-best totals on the team.
About one-third of the roster are returnees from the 32-6 Merchants that suffered an early playoff exit in the quarter-finals to the Stony Plain Flyers (23-12-3). The host team for provincials beat the Merchants three times in St. Albert in the best-of-five series.
“We’ll have a different look. We’ll be younger and we might be a bit faster than last year but less experienced. It will be interesting to see how that lack of experience plays out. Sometimes you can make up with that with a lot of enthusiasm and youthfulness,” Rodda said.
The Merchants averaged a league-high 198 goals (5.21 per game) and ranked second in goals against at 120 (3.16 GAA) as the CJHL’s most penalized team (1,422 PIM) in 2014/15.
“We’ll probably look for more balanced scoring this year than we have in the past. We’re losing some key guys offensively so that will be a big hole to fill and defensively, too, it’s the same thing. We have some youth back there but again they’re quite confident and quite skilled so I’m still very optimistic,” said Rodda.
The third-year Merchants’ bench boss is impressed by the quality of character players on the team.
“I know it’s early in the season to say such a thing but guys are just really committed. They’re coming to practice early and working hard in practice,” Rodda said. “There is just a real positive attitude and positive mood in the dressing room. It’s very upbeat. The team is already starting to gel really well.”
A short preseason consisted of one exhibition – 5-3 win over the Spruce Grove Regals on Sept. 4 in St. Albert – and Friday’s Blue/White intersquad game.
“We brought back some of the overage guys, the vets that have graduated, so it was an intersquad game with a few alumni players,” Rodda said. “It was really nice for the young guys to see some of the tradition of the old guys coming back and playing so it was a great night all around.”
The Morinville Jets make their season debut Sunday against the Founders Cup champion North Edmonton Red Wings. Puck drop is 6:45 p.m. at Ray McDonald Sports Centre.
Last season the Jets (24-11-3) finished third in the west division and in the quarter-finals lost three in a row to the Red Wings (26-7-5), the provincial champions and Keystone Cup silver medallists at westerns.