The Canadians of 2017-2018 start to take shape
by Randy Pascal
One year into his tenure with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians of the NOJHL (Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League), and owner Adrian
Gedye has a noticeably different outlook.
"We're in the exact opposite situation of where we were when I took over the team last year, when we only had five or six returning players," said Gedye
at a media reception Saturday at the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex.
"This year, we're eligible to return seventeen. This year is a year where we can try and go out and win a championship. I think the first part of that
is signing some great new young talent, and that's what we've done today."
And with that, Gedye acknowledged the recent commitments that have been made to the Canadians by local defenceman Brandon Atkins, North Bay
forward Cole Craft, Central Ontario Wolves' product James White and Peterborough Petes' prospect Jacob Partridge.
Coming off a very solid season with the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves, Atkins was selected in the fourth round of the inaugural OHL Under-18
Midget Priority Selection draft this past April, an accomplishment that he credits largely to the most recent stop in his hockey travels.
"I really enjoyed my time with the Caps," said Atkins. "You want to play somewhere where you get enough ice time to get better, but you still play good
competition to improve that way as well. I feel that last year, I improved my game so much. It was great."
Apparently, the 17 year old blueliner who registered 10 goals and 30 assists with the Sudbury midgets last year, also enhanced his scouting ability,
providing a pretty accurate report when asked to compile a self-assessment for the benefit of the Rayside faithful.
"You're going to see a good puck moving defenceman that has some skill in the offensive end, but also takes pride in his defensive zone work." Atkins
will attend the main camp of the Saginaw Spirit, but is expected to continue his progression under the watchful eye of Rayside-Balfour head coach
Dave Clancy this upcoming season.
While Cole Craft is certainly no stranger to local hockey fans who have followed the various "AAA" circuits in recent years, the flip side of that
coin played a large role in his signing with the Canadians.
"When I was talking to my parents and made the decision to come here, it was what was going to be the best fit for me," noted the well-spoken soon-to-be
16 year old. "Growing up, we would come to Sudbury all the time to play hockey, so it's not a new territory for me. I was comfortable coming here, it
wasn't a hard decision, and they have a history of advancing players."
Craft, who was selected in the 8th round of the primary OHL draft by the Sarnia Sting a few months back, suited up with the North Bay Trappers
of the Great North Midget League in his minor midget year, finishing with 13 goals and 19 assists in 36 games.
Like most other OHL draft eligible talent, Craft had an idea of what he needed to demonstrate to scouts in order to hit the radar screen. "I wanted them
to see my upside," he said. "I'm still pretty thin, but I'm tall. I think I have lots of good tools that I can build on, whether it's putting the puck in
the net, laying the body, or just being a good teammate."
That last feature might well be the first that comes to mind when coach Clancy thinks of veteran Matt Neault, who will prepare for his fifth and
final season in the NOJHL, with the career total games played mark held by Chris Pontes well within range.
"I just want to make these guys feel comfortable," said Neault. "If they are comfortable, they'll be able to do their thing." As someone who has been in
their shoes before, Neault is more than happy to endorse his current program as a valuable step on the hockey pathway that Atkins, Craft and others would
like to pursue.
"I think coach Clancy is really good at developing young players and bringing them out of their shell," he said. "He's tough on them, which will make
them a better player at the end of the day. He will really focus on moving you on to the next level, if that's what you want."
In addition to the two new signings that were present on the weekend, Gedye was excited about his two out of town additions. "James White is a 6'5" 220
pound winger who can score," he stated. "He was selected 9th overall by Flint in the first round of the midget draft. He does have a great opportunity to
make Flint, but if he doesn't, we're really excited that he chose us. He had a lot of choices."
Drafted in the 11th round by the Petes, Partridge racked up 18 goals and 32 assists in 42 games with the Barrie Minor Midget Colts this past
campaign, finishing 13th in league scoring in the loop that was also home to Sudbury Wolves first round pick Blake Murray.
Understandably, there are still some questions to be answered as players look to take the next step, with Gedye and the Canadians allowing for some flux
when it comes to their early season roster.
"Typically, we'll sign one to two players below the maximum," he said. "At the same time, we're fortunate that Cayse Ton, Bryce O'Brien and
Dakotah Woods are all trying out in the QJMHL. Their tryouts are earlier than the OHL, so we would know the picture of that before we complete
our training camp."
Gedye also addressed the goaltending situation, with both Owen Johansson and Cameron Lamour eligible to return, but the latter hoping to
make a serious bid at earning a spot in Saginaw, the team that drafted him in the third round of the 2016 OHL draft.
"We're keeping out options open," said Gedye. "We have two very capable goaltenders eligible to return. We did have then goalies at spring camp, and six
have been invited back to main camp. Our goaltending situation will become clearer as we go, but we do have some options there."