With every hockey season you’ll find some new surprises. In the CCHL, that’s no different.
Every season, you’ll find different teams putting up surprising numbers in the standings – in 2012-2013; it was the Ottawa Jr. Senators and their surprising run to home ice advantage in the 2nd round of the playoffs.
Many were predicting the Jr. Sens to be toward the bottom of the standings, but they proved their critics wrong with their run to an Yzerman Division title under Rick Dorval. This year, Ottawa is staring a Bogart Cup in the face.
While it’s not often that you find success stories like this one, there are always some pleasant surprises in the CCHL and over the rest of the CJHL circuit.
This year, the Cumberland Grads could very well fit that description.
Currently sporting a 9-6-2-0 record, the Grads have turned some heads as of late, including an impressive 4-3 victory over the Carleton Place Canadians in a shootout.
As the ruckus start to the season settles down, we get a good look at how teams will perform headed into the playoff stretch. From what’s been seen, arguably the most improved team in the league is Cumberland, under the guidance of first-year head coach Nathan Hewitt.
In an interview with Grads’ commentator David Reynolds, Hewitt said that his team has been buying into the system and that he’s relieved to see it – rightfully so, as rosters who get behind their coach usually tend to have more appearances in the win column.
At the beginning of the year, it was noticed that the Grads had trouble getting pucks to the net. The energy was there, but the results weren’t, as low amounts of goals were on the board at the showcase. However the team has appeared to be taking the shape that it needs to and as a result, Cumberland can show off a winning record.
Returning players in Mark Golberg and Travis Douglas are the offensive leaders on the team. I’ve especially noticed the improvement is Douglas’ game this year, who has had a knack for performing under pressure when I’ve watched him in the past.
In his 3rd year with the Grads, it is clear that Douglas’ development over the last few seasons has been second-to-none, moving from 38 points last year in to PPG territory this campaign.
Mark Golberg is another point per game player who is coming off of an impressive offensive campaign last year. With a better supporting cast this time around, look for Golberg to shine and improve on thw 16 points that he’s mustered up already as the year progresses.
Max St. Pierre’s performance at Ottawa 67’s training camp raised some eyebrows, as he engaged in a pesky role attempting to make the team. After migrating down to the CCHL’s Cumberland, he has thrived with 13 points while playing a physical role with 14 PIMs. In a league based on speed and skill, St. Pierre brings a unique style of game to the table, which makes him very hard to play against.
While on the topic of players who aren’t easy to go to battle with, starting goaltender Reilly Turner fits into that category well. Watching him at the showcase, I found that his quick reflexes and ability to challenge out to the crease would help him succeed as a starter in the CCHL. Turner hasn’t disappointed, coming up big in tough situations such as the recent shootout win over Carleton Place, making 48 saves in the process.
It’s these headliners combined with role players that really make a team work. Brandon Zullo, Tyler Pancel and Nicholas Ngwafusi all fit into the role player category among others – with Pancel chipping in offensively from the right point, with 5 assists as a defender.
Cumberland has a test in the form of the Brockville Braves on Friday night at the Navan Memorial Centre. The Braves are looking to put themselves on a winning streak after taking an overtime win in a Sunday matinee battle with the Nepean Raiders. Look for the Braves to come out strong, after firing 54 pucks at Raiders net-minder Ryan Mulder in their win.