The Amherst Ramblers will be much younger in 2014-15 after trading two veterans on draft day in Summerside.
AMHERST – The Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers are going to be a lot younger next season.
“The draft went well. We had targeted so many players and I believe we got about 80 per cent of what we targeted,” coach and general manager Josh Hepditch said. “We had a plan going in and we stuck to our guns. We got pretty much all the player we wanted.”
The Ramblers dealt two major cogs in its lineup during Saturday’s Maritime Junior Hockey League draft in Summerside, and picked up a number of players Hepditch hopes will join the club over the next few seasons.
First, Hepditch dealt forward Daniel Walsh to the Pictou Weeks Crushers for defenceman Tanner McCabe, the Crushers’ first-round pick on Saturday and its sixth round pick in 2015.
“Next year, as you can see by trades, we’re going to be younger. We won’t have an older team next season, especially now that we’ve put in to host the Fred Page Cup. You can’t hope you have a good team, you have to build a good team and that’s my plan. We need to get young guys here and change the culture that was here last season,” he said. “Walsh is an elite player and I’d love to have him in our lineup next season, but at the end of the day he’s only going to be here for one more year. If you can move a guy like that and bring in some assets, that’s how you build a championship team.”
Hepditch said McCabe is only 17 and could be a cornerstone of the defence for several years. He’s expected to attend the Victoriaville Tigers camp in August.
It later traded veteran defenceman Willie MacDonald to the Crushers for the rights to defenceman Ryan Yould (two goals, nine assists in 26 games with Cole Harbour Wolfpack) and a third round pick next year.
MacDonald said he was disappointed with some of the criticism Hepditch was receiving on social media and said the fans need to give the new coach a chance.
“Josh is going to bring a championship team to Amherst. This guy is 100 per cent class,” MacDonald said in a message to the paper. “There wasn’t enough turnover from last year to have a lot of success this season. He’ll be the guy to bring a winner to Amherst.”
“I know Willie (MacDonald) is going to be hard to replace, but now he gets to go to Pictou and have a shot at a championship and we got some good long-term assets in return,” Hepditch said.
When he took over as coach, Hepditch noticed the cupboards were bare in terms of draft picks and through a series of deals he’s managed to reacquire a number of picks for next year’s draft.
Hepditch said King has a shot of making the Halifax Mooseheads this season, but he expects he will be in a Rambler uniform if he doesn’t stick with a Halifax lineup that’s going to be rebuilding this season.
He’s also confident Dumaresque could be here this year at the earliest or next season.
“Every player has a Plan A and a Plan B and he’s a kid that’s hoping to get some attention from the higher levels. Every kid looks at their options and we hope to land him. We did take a chance on him,” Hepditch said. “If we get both him and Jordan that’s two top flight hockey players in our lineup.”
Hepditch says Murphy will be an elite defenceman and could step into the league as a 16-year-old. He said he’s an excellent skater and puck-handler and he’d like to have him in the lineup eventually.
The new coach is also keeping the door open for several players the club has in the QMJHL, including Amherst’s Josh Pugsley, who is entering his second season with the Moncton Wildcats; and Springhill’s Bronson Beaton, who was recently traded to Acadie-Bathurst after two seasons in Cape Breton and Shawinigan.
Now that the draft is over, Hepditch is going back out west to move his family to Amherst and he’s also running a hockey camp in Montreal this summer. He said he’ll be talking to lots of players, encouraging them to come to Amherst over the next two seasons.
While the team will be younger, he said the Ramblers will still be competitive.
“We’re building and I don’t think you have to be older to be competitive,” he said. “Just because we’re younger doesn’t mean we can’t be competitive. The kids that come here will know what we’re building toward and they are going to want to be part of it. Plus, there will be some free agents and other moves we’ll be making to improve our hockey club. Just because we’re young doesn’t mean we’re not going to try to be competitive. You look at the Moncton Wildcats last year, they were supposed to be rebuilding but they had a very competitive hockey club and took the Armada, one of the best teams in the league, to six games in the first round.”
Hepditch also pointed to the example of the Truro Bearcats, saying it’s a club that has built consistently through the draft and augmented the lineup with some free agent signings. That’s the model he intents to follow with the Ramblers.
“When you host the Fred Page Cup do you want to have a team that’s going to be competitive or a team that’s just going to be there and get its but kicked? You don’t want to do that, you’re representing the Maritime Junior Hockey League and you want to put your best foot forward,” he said. “To have a half decent team this year with Willie and Walsh there would be OK, but to have a competitive team the year after when you’re hosting would that much more difficult. You have to build and you have to get guys in to get some experience. We brought guys in that will be huge pieces of the puzzle.”
Hepditch is also working to build his coaching staff, adding Tim Ripley was at the draft table on Saturday and he plans to speak to Jamie Matthews about returning. Hepditch said he brought in former coach and GM Corey Crocker to help with the draft, but he won’t be on the coaching staff this season.
Ramblers’ Draft Picks
1st Round – Jordan King, F, Western Kings, NL
1st Round – (Acquired from Crushers) Jordan Dumaresque, F, Cole Harbour
2nd Round – Andrew Murphy, D, RNS Riverhawks
4th Round – Conal McNamaara, F,
6th Round – Cole Hackett, F, Kensington
7th Round – Cole Hachey, D, Fredericton
9th Round – Andrew Gass, F, RNS Riverhawks
10th Round – Evan MacKenzie, G, ARHS Vikings
11th Round – Jake Barter, D, RNS Riverhawks
12th Round – Johnny Jones, F, Halifax