With exhibition play on the 2013-14 CCHL season well underway, I couldn’t think of a better time to preview the upcoming campaign. The Cornwall Colts are coming off of a thrilling championship victory over Nepean in overtime in front of a packed Sportsplex crowd – however with the offseason dealings that come with any sport, the Colts will be in tough to defend their title.

While I may be stating the obvious, with the latest registration fees (for lack of a better term) being implicated by the CCHL and other Jr. A leagues across Canada in an attempt to pull in some extra cash, the unpredictability of the upcoming year is more pronounced than it has been in the past.

First, let’s profile some teams who are on the upswing. Look for the following tandems to make some noise at the top of the standings.

Cornwall Colts

We’ll start things off with the defending champions.

As always, the Colts should be a contender – they have been lights out the past couple years, which is what happens when you have high-quality recruiters such as Ian MacInnis in your organization.

However it won’t come without some work this year, as last year’s league MVP Michael Pontarelli was recently lost to Union College. That said; the Colts do still have some returning talent that will compensate for the loss of Pontarelli.

Young guns Tanner Spink and Andrew Ming headline some depth up front, while Marly Quince is expected to lead the team in the offensive categories.

Spink is a 96-born centre who spent the entire season with the team last year – you can expect to see him as a force in the league for the coming seasons, while Ming isn’t much different. Ming is another 17-year-old who scored 22 points and chipped in offensively down the stretch.

Marly Quince is more of a veteran presence, having posted Pt/G numbers last year (31 goals, 31 assists, 62 points) and serving as an assistant captain. He also joined Team Canada East’s U19 team in 2012-13 – a leader on the ice and on the stat sheets.

Pembroke Lumber Kings

The Lumber Kings sure are an interesting story. Last season started out as your average run of the yard, until their long-time off ice leader Sheldon Keefe left the team for a coaching job with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, forcing uncertainty into the heads of the former dynasty in Pembroke.

A 5th place finish and early playoff exit sent the alarm bells ringing at the old Memorial Centre. However with the original shock of the Keefe resignation worn out, the Kings have no time to waste if they want to be a competitor.

Losing key players does not help their case. An example of that would be 60-point scorer and member of last year’s Team Canada East’s U19 team Ben Dalpe moving out west to join the Penticton Vees. These roster spots will be filled by up-and-comers, with some Jr. B players moving their way up as well as some signings out of the US, which shows the recruiting power in Pembroke hasn’t been hurt.

New coach Dale MacTavish has his hands full in what he hopes is a retool on the fly for the perennial powerhouse Lumber Kings, as he is thrown to the fire in his first year behind the bench.

Carleton Place Canadians

If I were a betting man, I’d have the Carleton Place Canadians near the top of the standings once again this year.

I remember a couple years back when the Canadians were a relatively new team in the CCHL, making some noise in the playoffs for the first time against my hometown Gloucester Rangers. While they did lose that 2011 league quarterfinal, they proved that they had become a force to be reckoned with in Jr. A hockey and settled in nicely after a move from the Jr. B EOJHL.

In this coming year, the Canadians have a glut of returning players coming back for their final season in the CCHL after committing various colleges for 2014-15. Elias Ghantous, Luke Edwards and Kelly Summers are among the Canadians’ 2014 graduating class, however you can expect Jason Clarke to lead them and the whole CP team in one last championship run before having to go through a major retool.

On the other side of the equation, there are a few teams who head into the season as question marks – what will they bring to the table in 2013-14?

The Gloucester Rangers have had a rough time in the past couple seasons as they look to avoid a franchise first – missing the playoffs for three straight years. We’ll see what happens to my hometown team in their most important season in quite a while, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them squeak in with a good crop of returning players.

Brockville and Smiths Falls are two clubs at the opposite end of the spectrum – instead of a crop of returning players; they’re left with lots of new faces and question marks.

For the Bears, they’ve lost both of their goaltenders from last year, plus big minute-loggers in Michael Buonincontri, Tyler Akeson and Chris Maniccia.

Brockville has some new talent making their way into the fold along with a new coaching staff, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fit into the picture. I’d pick out a spot around 6th or 7th in the overall standings for the Braves, and look for Smiths Falls to battle for a playoff spot in the Robinson Division with Hawkesbury.

That’s enough predicting, I’ll let the players do the talking as preseason hockey rolls on around the CCHL. The last game of the preseason will go roughly a week from today, and the regular schedule kicks off at the Bell Sensplex for the Labour Day showcase tournament. See you all at the rink!