Ramblers continue to build for today, tomorrow
AMHERST - What was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Amherst Ramblers has been anything but and coach Corey Crocker can't help but smile at what his players have accomplished in only a few months.
Instead of bringing up the rear of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League as was predicted by a lot of hockey fans in September, the Ramblers find themselves engaged in a three-way battle for third place in the Bent Division at the Christmas break.
"I would give our players an A. When you have a rebuilding or restructuring year you have very low expectations because you're building a hockey team for the future," Crocker said. "If you were to tell me back at the start of the season that we'd be where we are I'd have thought it couldn't happen. I think all 21 of our players have exceeded expectations."
With the loss of sniper Andrew Sweetland to the University of Maine and Brent MacSween to pro hockey, the trade of Scott McManaman to the Weeks Crushers and the graduations of other key players, there weren't a lot of high hopes for this year's club.
Early on it appeared as though the Ramblers were going to live up to those expectations as the club stumbled through the pre-season and the first couple of weeks of the season. Something happened in early October, though, as goalie Andrew Flemming got hot and the youthful defensive corps came together much sooner than Crocker thought.
"We have 21 guys buying into a system that we want to put into place. We knew we'd struggle early as they got used to that system, but even now we are way ahead of where we thought we'd be at this time," Crocker said. "Yeah, we've struggled on offence but we're much better defensively than we've been in three or four years."
What the Ramblers have been getting this year has been solid leadership from a small group of veterans led by the gritty play of Andrew Oakley and Adam Chipman and timely scoring of Matt Squires and Travis Turner - who is also one of the top defensive centers in the MJAHL.
Crocker has also been impressed with how sophomore defenceman Derek Smith has become a leader on the team.
"The success we've had is promising for the organization and the young athletes on our team because they see what's going on and know that if they stick together over these next few years there's no telling how far they could go," Crocker said.
Heading into the second half, Crocker is looking for some more scoring up front but is not going to sacrifice the future for the present.
"We want to add some scoring, there's no question about that, but people got to realize with the Page cup in this region the next two seasons, players are going to want to play on those teams that are hosting or teams that are at the top of the league like Woodstock and Yarmouth," Crocker said. "Still, we're going to work hard to bring some new players to Amherst."