WEB EXCLUSIVE: The shot heard 'round Ramblerland

Jody Jewers
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*** Editor's note: This comment appears exclusively on amherstdaily.com. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Amherst Daily News, Transcontinental Nova Scotia Media Group Inc., or parent company Transcontinental Media.

The trigger has been pulled and the shot continues to reverberate around Ramblerland.
Captain Adam Chipman, arguably the heart and soul of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League club, whose grit and leadership made him the second member of his family to wear a C in purple and white. Smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman Derek Smith (a local boy, no less).
Both served three-and-a-half-years faithfully in the bordertown. Both whisked away by bus by the Pictou County Weeks Crushers on their way to their game in Summerside - and presumably, bigger and better things as part of an extended playoff run - the morning of trade deadline day Sunday.
But both players, while eventually agreeing to be moved, had to be convinced, which speaks volumes about their loyalty to their former organization. In the end, they felt it was a win-win. The Ramblers would benefit over the long haul with impact players who will help this team win a championship for the first time since MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice topped the charts, and Chipman and Smith would be parachuted out of a team that had fallen into last place in the Bent Division and dropped into a club that has done plenty of wheeling and dealing to try and unseat the Truro Bearcats as divisional king.
* * *
Like any trade, there are pros and cons.
The biggest pro coming out of this deal will likely not be revealed until the June draft in Bridgewater, when the Ramblers are expected to receive their future considerations. Rumours are swirling about what that will be - a player(s), a high draft pick, cash or some or all of the above. What is known is that the Ramblers now have the MJAHL rights to Dartmouth Subways major midget forward Greg Jansz, 16, and defenceman Christian Morin, 19, of the Quebec major junior league's Saint John Sea Dogs.
To give this deal any sense of value, Jansz and Morin must be convinced by Ramblers management, starting with head coach and general manager Corey Crocker, to report to training camp in September. If not, then those assets must be sold at the draft for players of comparable talent who want to play in Amherst. Jansz has the potential to be a top-six forward who can score, and Morin would add experience, depth and maturity to the blueline as a 20-year-old, so that has to be the value received.
The other major positive is that this team has the opportunity to remain largely intact for next season, while contenders like Woodstock, Truro and Pictou County will have some rebuilding to do. Granted, it will be easier for them since they are backed by ownership groups and sponsors with deep pockets to restock their lineup with veteran talent, but at least Amherst will have a group that has had an extra year to develop as a unit and should be on better footing to compete.
It falls to Crocker to convince his players that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, not two or three years down the road, but next season. This team will have a good blend of 19- and 20-year-olds going into 2010-11, and age will no longer be an excuse.
The biggest con to this deal is how the fanbase reacts to the admission that this team has essentially waved the white flag on the rest of this year. Yes, they could still make the playoffs, and might even beat Yarmouth or Halifax in that best-of-three mini-series, but that's as far as it will go.
Judging by the vitriol spewed by some on this website and on others, the Ramblers will take a hit at the gate the rest of the season, and an abbreviated playoff run or an outright failure to qualify for the postseason will take a significant toll on the bottom line. But those magic words "future considerations" often translate into cash on the barrel, and the Ramblers better hope they got their money's worth.
* * *
This trade did nothing to mend fences between those who support the Ramblers' philosophy as an organization and those who would seek change. Make no mistake, this trade is a referendum on that philosophy and the leadership of this franchise, namely Crocker and president George Baker.
Call the meeting earlier this month organized by "concerned fans" what it is - the first effort at mobilizing a takeover attempt. With former mayor Jerry Hallee willing to put his name up against Baker for president at the team's annual general meeting, this trade only gave this group more ammunition to use against the reigning executive.
It remains to be seen whether these "concerned fans" are truly interested in doing what is right for 21 young men and a cornerstone franchise of this league, or if they just want to whine and moan at whomever is in charge without being held accountable for their actions. Baker's biggest asset has been his ability to balance a budget and pay the bills, and whether this group can exercise the same fiscal responsibility is a major question mark. If this team goes in debt the way it did before Baker took over, it might not be able to climb out in the middle of a slowly recovering economy.
* * *
So who won the deal? It hinges on two factors.
For the Crushers, they must get to the league championship this year. They've spent a lot of money and made a lot of noise, but even with the players they've brought in, it says here that Pictou County remains an underdog in a seven-game series with Truro, and it would take a near-miracle for whoever comes out of the Bent to take four games from Woodstock.
For the Ramblers, they must be no worse than a top-four team in this league in 2010-11 and the goal should be to win a Kent Cup by 2011-12. Anything less should be considered concrete evidence of systemic failure of this organization at the highest level, and a different course of action must be pursued by new leadership.
The trigger has been pulled, the shot has been fired. All that's left now is to tally up the damage.

jjewers@amherstdaily.com

* Jody Jewers is the night editor at the Amherst Daily News, and started covering the Ramblers during the 2008-09 season.

Organizations: Amherst Daily News, Maritime Junior A Hockey League, Transcontinental Nova Scotia Media Group Transcontinental Media Bent Division Baker's

Geographic location: Pictou County, Summerside, Amherst Bridgewater Quebec

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