By SAM LASKARIS
The defending Ontario Junior Hockey League champion St. Michael’s Buzzers are in rebuilding mode. That’s because 11 – almost half of the club’s regulars – from the Buzzers’ championship squad have moved on to a higher level for this coming season.
As a result, Buzzers’ coach/GM Rich Ricci believes unless he’s able to acquire a handful of quality players his team will be a middle-of-the-pack one that that will have its share of struggles and will be in a battle simply to make the playoffs.
“Most of the players on our top three lines are gone,” Ricci said. “And our top two defencemen are gone. And our top goalie is gone.”
Those that have departed include forwards Matt Buckles and Troy Josephs, who were selected by the Florida Panthers (fourth round) and Pittsburgh Penguins (seventh round), respectively, in June’s NHL Entry Draft. Buckles is off to Cornell University, where he will be joined by blueliner Patrick McCarron, the Buzzers’ captain this past season who was also selected as the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top defenceman. Josephs is taking his talents to Clarkson University.
Ricci said restocking the St. Michael’s roster is not as easy as one might think.
“There’s always a number of kids that want to come here,” Ricci said when asked if last year’s championship season will assist with recruiting. “But whether they can get here is another story. There are a number of teams that won’t trade kids to St. Mike’s.”
Ricci was also rather disappointed with the over-all quality of players that attended the Buzzers’ two-day prospects camp in late April. He felt it was the lowest quality of players that have taken part in the club’s spring camp in the past decade.
“I was a little discouraged,” Ricci said. “Perhaps kids are skating elsewhere. Or maybe they think they don’t have a chance to make the St. Mike’s team.”
Nevertheless, about 20 of the players who attended the Buzzers’ spring camp will be invited to the main training camp, scheduled to begin on Aug. 20. Between 40-45 players are expected at this camp.
Until then Ricci will continue to scour the land in the hopes of upgrading his roster. But there is a problem he is facing.
“I don’t have a lot of bodies to give up,” he said of his limited trading options.
Returning forwards David Italiano, Jake Evans, CJ Shugart and Bron Loiselle are expected to all have additional responsibilities this season. The Buzzers also have six returning defencemen, including Jared Walsh who is bound for Michigan University after this coming season, and Ian Edmonson, who is entering his third OJHL campaign and has been anointed the team captain for the 2013-14 campaign.
While wins are expected to be harder to come by this season for his charges, Ricci is looking forward to it in part because of the OJHL’s new schedule. Teams will no longer simply play within their own conference during regular season action as there will now be home and away matches against all non-conference rivals.
“I like it,” Ricci said of the new scheduling format. “There’s a lot of character buildings in the league. You don’t get to go to them that often.”