Jonathon Brodie – Recorder & Times
The Brockville Braves are the best team in the country.
Honestly, how many people in this area actually thought Brockville would one day see their name at the top of the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s weekly top-20 rankings? Don’t feel bad if you were one of the doubters. The Braves had plenty of naysayers on their roster as well.
Coach Jesse Winchester dampened expectations when training camp started. With eight rookies inserted into the lineup for the season opener in early September, the coach said there would be no panic if Brockville was sitting at .500 after 10 games, or even 20, into the season.
Captain Fred Allaire thought the same thing as his coach. He believed in his team, but he didn’t think they would be this good this quickly. The second-year Braves forward figured there would be some growing pains along the way. Instead, the only pains from the Braves are mostly the ones they’re dishing out to opponents on the scoreboard with a 15-2-0-0 record.
When the Braves lost Sunday to the Smiths Falls Bears, Allaire expected it to be the end of their run to the top of the CJHL for this week, even if the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits, who held the No. 1 spot the last two weeks, picked up a loss of their own.
Lo and behold, the independent scouting service that decides the rankings thought differently.
“I was actually pretty surprised we’re No. 1 since we lost Sunday, but I think everyone is happy. We need to keep improving or we’re going to go down in the rankings” said Allaire.
Braves forward Eric Faith, who has the longest tenure with the club with four years experience, said the team has never really paid attention to the rankings. There was never really any need to keep an eye on them. Brockville players turned their attention to it a bit in 2015 when they were named an honourable mention, said Faith, but that’s about as far as they ever went.
Now, three years later, here the Braves are. Not just mentioned or given a number on the list. They are at the top of it all.
“It’s definitely nice to get that recognition.
Obviously, we don’t read into it too much,” said Faith, who leads the CCHL with 25 points. “Winchester has been saying not to get complacent and not to worry about (the rankings) too much, but, obviously, to get that recognition in all of Canada is nice and just shows the hard work we’ve put in.”
It’s tough to say what the criteria is to decide the rankings.
The Braves winning percentage is great at .882, but the Oakville Blades, the No. 2 team, are just a bit better at .889. Brockville’s defence has been the highlight to their game this season, allowing just 33 goals in 17 games.
The Blades have given up 32 goals in 18 games.
The Braves have picked up their goal-pace after a reasonably sluggish start and have now found the back of the net 64 times. The Bandits have been hot right from the beginning and have piled in 82 goals.
Brockville’s penalty kill has come up big all year and they’ve killed 89.2 per cent of their power plays. No. 5 North York Rangers have a 91.14 per cent penalty kill.
It’s not necessarily the numbers that show the Braves best traits, though. If you really want to know why an “independent scouting service” picked Brockville to win the RBC Cup, at least for this week, you just have to go and watch them.
Veterans like Faith, Nicholas Hawkins, and Allaire are far exceeding anything they did last year.
Brockville’s rookies are continually looking better every game. There isn’t many nights when guys like Evan Kula or Emerick Nadeau don’t do at least few things that impress the crowd.
When you mix the Braves skill with this, sort of, blue-collar mentality that they have to work for everything that comes their way, while having fun doing it all, then it all shakes out to being the top team in the country.
It’s all a culture implemented last year under then first-year coach Winchester that is now beginning to get engrained in the fabric of the team and pay dividends.
“I think it’s the way our guys show up at practice everyday and the chemistry we have,” said Allaire about the team’s success. “When we have fun it’s easy to work hard and when we work hard we win and we have more fun.”
There will be plenty of people that contend the rankings mean nothing. That’s partially true. Brockville isn’t given a spot at the RBC Cup because they’re currently ranked No. 1 in the country and the rankings have no impact whatsoever at the CCHL level.
With the rankings, though, comes a sense of security. It lets the Braves players know that what they’re doing is not only working, but it’s getting them noticed on a much larger scale than just the league they play in.
“The rankings themselves don’t mean anything, but for our confidence and for us to be rewarded for our hard work, in terms of that, it feels good to see it pay off,” said Faith. “We use it as a guideline to keep going and the goal is to stay at the top.”
Brockville has risen the expectations for themselves. They raised the bar last year after taking the Ottawa Jr. Senators, the eventual CCHL champs, to Game 7 in the semifinal and they’ve done it again now that they’ve been given the top spot in the CJHL rankings.
There is still five months left in the regular season, another month if you add the post-season, and you can extend the time line even farther if you include the Fred Page Cup and RBC Cup.
The Braves still have a long time to show what else is in their bag of tricks.
Original Story at Recorder.ca