The St. Albert Merchants Junior B hockey team is off to a strong start to the 2023-24 season by winning four straight games.
The Merchants, who lost to the Sherwood Park Knights in last year's Capital Junior Hockey League championship playoff series, opened the new season on Sept. 15 with a 5-2 win over the Morinville Jets.
Leading the team to victory was left-winger Owen Bourque, who tallied three assists, while Hudson Ketsa, Matthew Gomez, and Anwar Moukhaiber each put up a goal and an assist.
The team's second regular-season game on Sept. 17 saw the Merchants pummel the Stony Plain Flyers 8-0.
Netminder Jack Robinson earned the shutout, while 15 different skaters got on the scoresheet, including team captain Dylan McFatridge, who earned a hat-trick.
The Merchants then beat the Flyers again 9-4 on Sept. 22. Another 14 players made their mark, including a hat-trick from Nico Gallo, who led last year's team with 39 regular-season goals.
On Sept. 24 the Merchants kept their undefeated season alive with a 6-4 victory over the Beverly Warriors.
The Merchants went into the third period trailing the Warriors by one, but the team managed to score four goals in less than seven minutes to earn their fourth win. Brett Reiter led the offensive charge with four points in the contest.
The team took on the North Edmonton Red Wings on Wednesday evening; however, the game didn't start until after the Gazette's afternoon press deadline.
New bench boss
First-year head coach Kyle Chapple said in an interview that he was “very pleased” with how the team has been playing so far.
“Any time you can start the year 4-0, it's a great start,” Chapple said. “We've played really well and gotten off to the start that we wanted to, and obviously a few mistakes in some of the games that we're still working on and going to try to get better at.”
Chapple takes over as head coach after Niall O'Donoghue's two-year tenure.
“Coming into this team after having such a strong year last year, I really don't want to come in and disrupt too much,” Chapple said. “I'm obviously going to put a little bit of my own touch on things and ... bring my experiences of the past to the organization and help them succeed.”
“Coming off the year that they had last year with the success of only losing a few games and then ultimately making it to the finals and just coming up a little bit short there, I think the goal for the organization, for the players, is to have that opportunity to kind of redeem themselves from a year ago.”
Prior to his new position, Chapple spent 12 years as the head coach and general manager of the County of Grande Prairie Kings, another Junior B hockey team that plays in the North West Junior Hockey League (NWJHL).
“An opportunity arose for my wife and I to move out to Edmonton job-wise, and the St. Albert Merchants were hiring, and I just threw my name in the hat and I was fortunate enough to be hired,” Chapple said. “I've had lots of experience coaching at the Junior B level in Alberta and I've been to the Alberta Junior B provincials three times.”
Although it has only been a few games, Chapple said one difference he's noticed between the local Junior B league and the NWJHL is that the northern teams play a bit more physically, whereas the Edmonton-area teams rely more on skill-based play.
The Merchants will take on the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks on Friday evening at Jarome Iginla Arena, with puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m.