AMHERST, N.S. - Going into the most important season in his franchise’s history, Jeff LeBlanc knew he needed a goalie with major junior experience.
Over the weekend, the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers swung a deal with the Summerside Western Capitals to land 20-year-old goalie Matt Williams, who spent last season with the Saint John Seadogs of the QMJHL.
“This is a huge move for us. Matt has been an outstanding goalie in this league for two years and with the experience he gained playing in the Telus Cup several years ago and in the Q with Saint John last year we knew he was the goalie we wanted,” LeBlanc said Wednesday while welcoming the Halifax native to Amherst. “He brings that big game, playoff experience that we needed.”
In 20 games with the Seadogs last season, Williams had a 4.46 goals against average and an .881 save percentage on a rebuilding hockey club, while in the previous two seasons in Summerside he had a 3.52 goals against average in 2016-17 and a 3.17 average in 2015-16.
“This is a deal we’ve been working on for quite some time. We sort of knew they had their goaltender of the future with Tmej and we asked about Matt. I’m ecstatic that it worked out and that he’s in our dressing room.”
Williams is excited to be with the Ramblers.
“It’s a pretty good feeling knowing I’m going to be playing with a great team that’s preparing to host the Fred Page Cup,” Williams said. “I’m looking forward to being a part of that.”
Williams said he remembers the Ramblers’ fans as a member of the opposition and how passionate they are about their hockey club. He’s happy to be on their side this years as opposed to being with the opposition.
“I bring a good work ethic and good attitude,” he said. “Hopefully I can become a good leader for this team. I like what I see here.”
Williams said playing with Saint John has elevated his game. The pace is much faster and the shots a lot harder.
“I know my game has improved from playing there last year and I hope I’m able to bring that here this year,” he said. “I know I can contribute something positive. To play in a big championship like the Fred Page Cup would be like a dream come true.”
Williams said he’s happy to be reunited with former teammate Hunter McIntyre, who was acquired from Summerside in a separate deal, while he’s also happy that a teammate from last year in Saint John Alex Lafreniere will be with the Ramblers this season.
The Ramblers were active on the trade front again Wednesday picking up 19-year-old forward Aidan McFarland from the Kingston Voyageurs of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
The 5’11, 192-pound left-winger had 11 goals and 21 assists in 41 games with Kingston last season and also spent parts of three seasons with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, incluing a 16-point campaign in 2016-17..
“He’s gritty and from what I’ve watched on video he has an unbelievable shot,” LeBlanc said. “He’s a guy that goes hard to the net and has 100 games of experience in the OHL. It’s a very good league and for him to play in the final of the OHL and not miss a game speaks a lot of his character.”
LeBlanc said there were two other teams in the Eastlink South Division that seeking McFarland, but he chose Amherst because it’s hosting the Fred Page Cup and it’s close to a university that he wants to go to.
“We’re very excited to get him,” he said. “He also had an offer from a team in the BCHL but he chose us because he knows he has a good shot at playing in a national championship.”
LeBlanc said he expects to be announcing several more moves in the coming days.
The Ramblers open the exhibition season Thursday night in Bouctouche, N.B. in a neutral site game against the South Shore Lumberjacks.
The club is home Saturday to face the Miramichi Timberwolves before playing in Miramichi on Sunday.