Tim Ruhnke – Recorder & Times
Hope springs eternal as autumn arrives.
The Brockville Braves will open the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) 2022-2023 regular season at home against the Smiths Falls Bears on Friday night. Puck drops at 7:30.
The Jr. A Braves finished third overall in 2021-2022. After winning game seven of the quarter-finals in the fourth overtime period in front of the home fans in April, Brockville dropped its semi-final series with Hawkesbury 4-1.
As is often the case at the start of a new season, the Braves are missing many of the key players who had a lot to do with their success the previous year. Three days before the opener, there were seven players from that 4OT playoff game who remain on the roster.
The outlook of fourth-year Braves head coach Randy Jones remains the same.
“Each and every game we play we want to win, plain and simple,” the former NHL defenceman said in an interview.
Losing some of the top forwards from the previous season “just puts a little bit more responsibility and a little bit more pressure on the ones that are returning,” Jones said.
Those returnees up front are Luke Tchor – a 22-goal scorer during the regular season – as well as Lucas Culhane and Colin Elliott. Their familiarity with the coaching staff and the league will be important as new Braves adjust to their environment.
“It’s the coaches’ job to find the right combos, to find the right mix and keep working with the forward group… and making sure that we’re on the same page,” the coach stated. “When you have big turnover in a certain area, is making sure attention to details is there and a lot of communication early on.”
As for blueliners, Jones is pleased to have captain Thomas Haynes returning to Brockville. The CCHL 3rd All-Star Team member is “a workhorse back there… carries the brunt of the load and does it with broad shoulders,” according to the head coach.
Jones is also hoping that Trent Ledrew will build on his solid season in which he was named to the CCHL’s 2nd All-Rookie Team.
“He’s played big minutes in this league, especially during playoff time,” the coach noted.
Also returning on defence is former Brockville Tikis captain Josh Cole; he is “a great character player” on whom the Braves will be leaning to provide a leadership role, according to Jones.
“We’re pretty excited about our back end,” the coach commented. “I think the best offence comes from stronger defence, limiting chances and opportunities.”
Back in goal for Brockville will be Sami Molu, who joined the team last fall and became one of the top netminders in the league.
In noting the team is excited to have “someone of Sami’s caliber” between the pipes, Jones added that the club also has “high expectations.” The Braves believe that Molu can help mold fellow goalie Philip Rondina – a Tiki last season – into being a Jr. A starter, Jones said.
The Brockville coach, who was named to the CCHL’s 2nd All-Star Team for 2021-2022, will be looking for consistency and a full 60-minute effort against the Bears Friday night.
“And hopefully we do enough to get that first win,” Jones added.
Prior to the home-opener Friday, a barbecue hosted by MNP Brockville with help from The Butcher Shop will take place near the front entrance beginning at 6:30. Proceeds go to Making Play Possible of Leeds Grenville.
The CCHL regular season opened Wednesday night. The Kemptville 73’s were in action in Nepean.
Kemptville’s home-opener is also on Friday night at 7:30. The 73’s host Navan at the North Grenville Municipal Centre.
CCHL champion Ottawa is ranked seventh by the CJHL on its Canadian Jr. A pre-season top 20 list. The Jr. Senators had received a mere honourable mention heading into last season.
The Carleton Place Canadians, who missed the playoffs in 2021-2022, are ranked 15th. No other CCHL teams made the pre-season list.
Smiths Falls managed to snag the eighth and final post-season spot last spring by winning a play-in game. The Bears then got swept by top-seeded Ottawa in the opening round.
Kemptville placed fifth overall in 2021-2022 and lost to Renfrew in six games in the opening round.
Original Story at Recorder.ca