This Labour Day weekend was a little more exciting than the past few have been.

Why is that, you may ask?

Well, CCHL hockey made their triumphant return for the annual fall showcase tournament.

However there was extra pizzazz associated to this year’s event. With a much-needed move down Terry Fox Drive to the Bell Sensplex, the event not only gained better sightlines; but more room for fans, scouts and media as well – and the extra room certainly wasn’t wasted.

While fans filled the wood bleachers at both the Mattamy Homes Arena and the Canadian Tire Arena, the media and scout porches in both Sensplex ice pads were used to their full potential. Many American license plates and NCAA jackets were seen around the arena – the CCHL’s reputation as a hub for college scouts was certainly bolstered as a result of the weekend.

Getting down to business, who were the winners and losers emerging from the showcase weekend?

I think it can be universally agreed upon that Nepean has taken some big early steps in an effort to silence their critics, going 2-1 on the weekend. Things began with two wins in a row, first defeating Hawkesbury, then Smiths Falls.

The familiar faces on the Nepean squad have already emerged, with Brandon Watt and team captain Keenan Hodgson already pitching in with 2 and 3 points respectively. Although early in the season, it looks as though the Raiders will be fairly well off once again with new faces such as Darius Gibson and Philippe Gadoury already making names for themselves.

The one-two punch in goal should be solid for Nepean, with both goaltenders getting in-game action during the showcase, putting up respectable numbers. I was especially impressed with assumed backup goalie Brett Magnus.

His 6’3” frame takes up a good portion of the net and showed to be very solid in the 6-0 win over Smiths Falls, a shutout performance in which the Raiders were outshot. If starter Ryan Mulder struggles at any point, look for Magnus to right the ship.

Nepean’s one hiccup this weekend game against a Carleton Place Canadians team that, as mentioned previously, should be a serious contender for the Bogart Cup come playoff time.

Also posting a 2-1 record after a loss to an underrated Ottawa Jr Senators squad, the Canadians were able to handle Nepean with what appears to be relative ease; the final score was 5-1 in a game where the Canadians had a 31-21 edge in the shot category.

Other than the mentioned blowouts, there was some very good parity shown this weekend – especially on Saturday, where all but 2 of the scheduled games needed extra time.

The Kemptville 73’s needed overtime to finish off the Gloucester Rangers on Saturday, storming back from behind. In their 3 games this weekend, all of them were decided by two goals or less. This may not be horribly surprising; however one detail will be sure to widen your eyes.

After the 3-game showcase tournament, the 73’s are 3-0 and the only team in the CCHL to have 6 points.

Out of all teams predicted to go undefeated for the showcase, one would think that the 73’s aren’t on the top of many lists. However they were a well-oiled machine this weekend and deserve every bit of praise directed their way.

The main gear in their offense is 95-born Jesse Blais, who has put up 5 points this weekend and could be considered one of the better players in the league.  After splitting time with both Smiths Falls and Kemptville last year, he put up Pt/G numbers as a 17-year-old. Expect him to lead the offensive categories for Kemptville.

Brandon Seatter and Quinn Wichers are two other young guns whose names you should remember.  Seatter dazzled onlookers last year with some great puck handling abilities and speed – he is another 95-born player who will be a threat when given space to work with. If the 73’s can find a big body for him to play with, he should shine.

Wichers is a recent graduate of the Upper Canada Cyclones AAA program and joins the 73’s as a big defenseman who has the traits of a mobile player – he impressed me and many others during the showcase and seems to have a bright future ahead.

The 73’s have all the pieces – seeing if they can mesh together and make some noise will be interesting to follow. From what I saw at the showcase, writing the 73’s off would be a bad decision.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Gloucester Rangers have posted a 0-3 record, after losses to Carleton Place, Brockville and Kemptville.

The Rangers are another group that has all the tools to be a solid playoff team. Wiley veterans in captain Keegan Rowe, Dean Derouchie and Colton Keuhl among others; a good core of defensemen and some promising young players (Foget, Salloum and Veronneau). Unlike Kemptville, they were unable to gain some wins at the Sensplex this past weekend.

This is another good story to keep an eye on – a heated opening matchup vs Brockville proved that they can play a physical game, and another closely contested game against an improved 73’s team only saw the Rangers blow a late lead after having the advantage in early stages. It seems like a few adjustments could put Gloucester with the rest of the pack.

Another team with a losing record coming out of the showcase is Cumberland – who has a gem of a starting goatender in Reilly Turner. Turner fought off 67 shots in his 2 starts while looking very quick and solid between the pipes. The issue for Cumberland appears to be the offense, as they failed to score more than 2 goals in any of their showcase games.

They have some bright spots such as high-energy 5’9” forward Matt Morin – who already has an overtime winner – to work with. If you were to enter the Navan Arena during a Grads practice this week, you would most likely see new head coach Nathan Hewitt working to bring team’s collective offensive prowess up a notch.

All in all, it was a fun weekend for all involved and the season ahead looks to be just as close as 2012-13, which had many teams duking it out for home ice advantage within points of each other all year.