ESPANOLA - Count coach Tom McCarthy among those not 100% sure what kind of team the Espanola Rivermen will be in their first season in the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League.
The Rivermen got their first game action of the 2013-14 campaign in Kirkland Lake Friday night against the Gold Miners and will play their second contest Saturday night at the Jus Jordan Arena against the Abitibi Eskimos.
“We have not had the privilege of playing any exhibition games,” McCarthy said during an interview with The Daily Press on Thursday afternoon.
“So my take of my hockey team is internal, from competing with ourselves, preparing and getting in shape for the season.
“I believe we are going to be a very fast hockey team. I believe we have a little more size than most hockey teams I have coached in the last decade. Might be because of the way athletes are built today. We all seem to be a little bigger, a little stronger.”
McCarthy hopes to see the Rivermen play a high-energy game this season.
“I am looking for a team that works hard and obviously doesn’t give up, or quit,” he said.
“I would love to tell you about all our players’ character and how they are going to fit together, but I have only had the privilege of putting lines together in practice and intersquad games and those don’t always show your true colours until you play in head-to-head scenarios.
“It will be a little bit of baptism by fire.
“With this being a new organization and getting settled in a new town, I felt it was more important to do this than racing around and playing exhibition games. The season is going to be a little longer this year, so we thought this was best suited for our organization … to get a little more grounded in our community.”
The Rivermen lineup features five players who were part of the NOJHL-champion North Bay Trappers roster last season a team coached by McCarthy before moving to Espanola (this year’s Trappers are actually an expansion franchise).
Brandon Janke (46, 14-28-42, 20), Brennen Dubchak (47, 21-30-51, 25), Duane Wainman (43, 10-16-26, 12), Corbin Bean (48, 14-23-37, 20) and Joe Echelmeier (27, 2-7-9, 26) are all quite familiar with the system their coach likes to employ.
“We are very fortunate to have a nucleus like that,” McCarthy said. “They are familiar with my tact, or my methods, and it will certainly help the younger players to adapt to the formula that we kind of use as a benchmark in a sense of how we run our organization.
“So, that’s a huge advantage for myself and for the team going forward … to have those guys who have been with me for a couple of years, or a year-and-a-half.
“They are going to be a big part of getting us off to a good start.”
The Rivermen have also picked up a number of newcomers who have caught the coach’s eye in training camp, as well.
Defenceman Nathan Campbell (31, 2-12-14, 26), who played for the Markham Waxers of the ETAHL last season, is one of those players.
“He has shown a lot of poise and he is going to be an exciting player to watch,” McCarthy said.
“It’s his first year in junior and I think he is going to be a bright spot on our hockey club.”
Another player who has impressed McCarthy is forward Ryan Attwood (38, 5-11-16, 20), who played for the Toronto Attack of the GMHL in 2012-13.
“I think he is going to be a great surprise,” he said.
“I was surprised that he was available to play hockey for us up here. He brings all the parts … if I was on the left side, I would want him as my centreman.
“I look to him for some exciting stuff.”
But the coach has a difficult time trying to point to just one or two players who could have an impact in 2013-14.
“They are all brand new and I love every one of them,” McCarthy said.
“They have not made a mistake yet, so they are all great, and they are working really hard.
Up front, the Rivermen roster also features a Timmins native making the jump from midget hockey to the NOJHL.
Seventeen-year-old winger Brandon Major-Renaud (31, 15-14-29, 18) played for the Timmins Majors last season.
Eighteen-year-old forward Patrick Morgan (38, 23-22-45, 26) comes to the Rivermen by way of the Uxbridge Bruins of the COJCHL.
The Rivermen also have a pair of 16 year olds looking to make an impact in Ryan Theriault, a veteran of the Nickel City Sons minor midget program, and Jason Bednarski, an Espanola native who also played for the Sons last season.
The Rivermen have two new goaltenders, including 20-year-old Griffin Strain, who played for the Philadelphia Revolution of the the EMJHL last season.
“I feel very confident with our goaltending to start the season,” McCarthy said.
The other Espanola goaltender is Alex Chandler, a 19 year old who split the 2012-13 season between the Toronto Attack and the Lefroy Wave of the GMHL.
“I am very excited about our whole team,” McCarthy said.
“I feel that we will be balanced. We have some agility and size on defence and the same balance up front.