Observations From Around the Rink – At Random

Posted on January 15, 2023

Now that the holidays are in the rear view, lets fire off some opinions.

Before we start – the local hockey and business community lost a huge supporter this weekend with Bernie Halloran’s passing. I wish Bernie’s family (Cindy, Jason, Darren and Nicole) the best as they navigate this difficult time.

The Eastern Ice Breakers U13AAA Female team might go down as the most dominant U13 Female team in the history of the province. This team has star power, depth, and a really good back end. One trend that you see with this team is the number of players who have male siblings playing at higher levels 1-3 years their senior. Much like last season in U13AAA Male where it had the vibe that all other teams not named TriCom were playing for second, the U13AAA Female circuit likely has that aura after Eastern’s first half. Anything can happen down the stretch, and in a one game, winner-take-all playoff anything can happen. But Eastern have certainly been utterly dominant to date.

The Pinnacle Growlers are ahead of their development timeline. When Growlers management looked at their depth chart just before the annual U18 Draft, they had to be thinking “this is going to be a learning year for us”. Over half the Growler forwards from last season – most of which were impactful names – were graduating or heading to prep/junior pastures. Fast forward to Mid-January, and the young guns are buzzing coming down the U18 regular season stretch. Trevor Budgell’s charges put forth a great performance at the East Coast IceJam this past weekend, going 3-0 in round robin play and making it to the Round of 8. Growler forward Nolan Avery secured a spot on the tournament’s second-team All-Star roster (congrats Nolie). AP’s from last season Andy Knight and Connor Hussey were all over the scoresheet for the Black and Gold. This team continues to show signs of improvement, and based on their showing at the IceJam, are nipping at the heels of the big boys in the Atlantic Provinces such as the Knights and Flyers.

Elliot Wright – one of many first year Growlers making an impact this season

The U15 Gulls are… the U15 Gulls. Is it just me, or is this team always around the top of the U15 heap in Atlantic Canada? Coaching the U15 Hitmen for 2 seasons, it was apparent that the Gulls had a high-quality program. I had the opportunity to coach against high QMJHL Draft picks Quinn Kennedy, Reese Peitscze, Nathan Casey, Carruthers, Jake Furlong, and the list goes on. After monitoring the IceJam scores all weekend, it certainly seems that the Gulls are back to their old ways, sandblasting teams en route to a birth in the tournament final. Here are some scores from the Gulls playoff games – 9-1, 6-1, 5-0. The Gulls closest tournament game was against none other than the NL Eastern Thunder, who matched wits with them to the very end in a tightly-contested 4-1 match. The Thunder came very close to meeting the Gulls in the finals, but lost 5-4 to the always stingy Truro Bearcats in the semi’s. Hats off to NL local coach and former MUN Business classmate Robert Barrett for doing a bang-up job with The Gulls so far this season.

The worldwide parity in male and female hockey at the highest levels is making for some awesome hockey. I cannot recall a World Junior Championships that was this close across the board. Yes – Canada eventually won and 35 million people can sleep until next years tournament. But every game amongst the big programs was tightly-contested and could have gone either way. The Slovak’s could have very easily been the winners of this event – they beat the American’s in the round robin and took Canada to the brink of elimination in the quarter finals. The American’s had a heck of a team and looked like they were going to steamroll Canada until Bedard counter-punched them to make it 2-1 and changed the whole flow of the game. The Czech’s were a very similar team to Canada, which is no surprise because over half their roster suit up in the Canadian Hockey League. Finland and Sweden are always sniffing around, too.

On the Female side, Canada just got by the Finn’s in U18 World play across the pond. Canada are undefeated in the tournament, but every game has been close and it is blatantly obvious that in short order, it will not be a foregone conclusion that Canada play the USA in the finals of every Olympics Games.

My rationale for the score gap is the same reason why the USA isn’t as dominant in Men’s Basketball as it was in the 1990’s, or why places like Florida and California are developing elite hockey talent hand over fist. The internet has given international countries more resources and insight into how the best countries at a particular sport practice. More international players play pro sports in North America, and when they retire, they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience back to their homelands to pass on to the next generation. Teams in the highest leagues have more access to international recruits due to cloud platforms, and the world being shrunk by cell phones and sharing technology. My guess is the parity trend will continue.

Should Moncton have 2 U18AAA Male Teams? Moncton – according to a CTV article – is Canada’s fastest-growing city. The Moncton Regional Municipality – when including Dieppe and Riverview – is around 140,000 (cite). Moncton has 2 U15AAA programs (Moncton Hawks and Dieppe Flyers), so why not 2 U18AAA teams? The argument made by many will be competition for players from the area – RNS is only a hop, skip and jump away, Champions Hockey Academy is up the highway, the Northern Moose take a lot of Moncton Flyer cuts and Mount Academy in PEI is also an attractive destination for Monctonians. But I think it would make sense to have a second U18AAA club in the region, especially with the high-quality arenas in nearby Dieppe. Moncton Flyers and… Dieppe Commandos (defunct MHL brand)? Dieppe Beavers (defunct MHL brand sorta)? Who knows.

The powerhouse Moncton Flyers will once again lace ’em up in the IceJam Championship, this year against the Charlottetown Knights who have really grown as a program since the Knights-Ch’town Pride name change. The Knights took home the Monctonian ’22 crown and look to sweep the big Maritime showcases this afternoon. Good luck to both teams.

Until Next Time,