AMHERST, N.S. – In one of the most important seasons in the history of the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers franchise head coach and general manager Jeff LeBlanc is urging fans to have managed expectations as the club prepares to open the 2018-19 Maritime Junior Hockey League season.
The team they see on opening night, may not be the unit that takes to the ice on May 1 to start the Fred Page Cup, emblematic of eastern Canadian junior A supremacy.
Saying that, he’s very happy with the club he has as the Ramblers open their season at home Saturday against the Valley Wildcats.
“We’re trying not to look too far ahead this year,” LeBlanc said. “We really haven’t seen any other teams in our division play yet this year, other than the exhibition game with South Shore. Until I see all the teams and some regular season games I’m not going to make any predictions.”
Coming out of training camp, LeBlanc said he’s very pleased with his team’s speed and hockey sense – things he thought last year’s club was lacking.
“We need to play a high tempo style. We’re going to be a bit smaller, but we’ll be a lot faster,” LeBlanc said. “What we’ve noticed in the exhibition games is we’re getting on their defence a lot faster than last year and that’s what we want to do. We want to play that style all year.”
As much as he says managed expectations are important, LeBlanc said his club will not be looking to go to the championships via the back door as host. Instead, he wants his club to focus on the regular season a week at a time with the aim of getting better and peaking at playoff time.
“Nine months is a long time and a lot is going to happen. There will be ups and downs and peaks and valleys, but our goal is to get better every day and keep the negativity from creeping in,” he said.
The Ramblers enter the season having had to replace several top line forwards including leading scorer Jordan King, Brady Griffin-Hefford, Liam Conrad, Layton Parsons and Will Bower. Also gone is Brock McEwen, who was dealt recently to the Campbellton Tigers.
Back up front are Will Lafford, Cole Waugh, Jacob Myra and Caleb Rich.
LeBlanc has made some key additions to the forward corps including Nicholas Snow, who played in St-Jerome, Que. last season; Casey Fox, who played with the Moncton Wildcats; Hunter McIntyre, from Summerside, Alex Lafreniere from the Saint John Seadogs; James Walker from the Brockville Braves and Aidan McFarland from Kingston, Ont.
They’re joined by rookies Stephen Fox (last season’s Nova Scotia major midget scoring leader and MVP), Cole Darragh from Moncton and Max Boudreau from Shediac.
“We’ve replaced eight forwards from last year, and not just any eight players. We’ve lost six of our top forwards,” he said. “We’re solid in nets and good on defence with five coming back. We’ve added a great forward group in the last couple of weeks and we’re only going to get better. Now it’s to work on the chemistry and learning to play as a hockey team. It’s going to take a while but we have a while. We know we’ll be playing in May.”
Defensively, Dawson Grenier and Matt Sartoris lead a veteran-laden group that includes Bradley Dawe, Thomas Ashe and Dayne Chasse. Newcomers including Alex Wynter from Moncton (who was in camp last year) and Linden Namagoose from the Kirkland Lake Goldminers.
In goal, the Ramblers made a big move at the start of camp acquiring former Saint John Seadogs goalie Matt Williams from Summerside. He’ll be joined by returning goalie Joel Goguen.