Braves return veteran core
Tavistock has 14 players back when it opens season Friday against defending champion Ayr
Junior hockey teams will often see their rosters turn over on a yearly basis.
As players graduate, move for school or work, it’s rare to keep cohesion from one season to the next.
The Tavistock Braves will be one of the few teams in the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Doherty Division to avoid a slew of new players. The team will return 14 players from last year’s roster that lost to the Paris Mounties in a seven-game firstround series after an 18-22 regular season record.
The Braves open the 2017-18 season Friday at home against the Ayr Centennials at 7:30 p.m. and then visit the Burford Bulldogs Saturday.
“It definitely helps we have 14 players back from last year’s roster,” Braves head coach Dan Kalbfleisch said. “That continuity with the coaching staff and players will help to hit the ground running. We faced adversity to start last year and we came together to finish strong and have a good playoff series against Paris. That adds experience to the group and will help us this season.”
Tavistock opened last year 3-1, but lost its next 12 games before playing above .500 the remainder of the season as one of better teams in the division in the second half.
While teams gel over the course of the season, the beginning can often be a feeling out process as teams find the right line combinations and connection.
With nearly three returning full lines each night, Tavistock will look to avoid any learning curves other teams will face.
“It helps us in terms of implementing systems. In training camp you’re not spending extra time to evaluate everyone,” Kalbfleisch said. “It’s beneficial. We’re pretty confident with how our camp went and we’re looking forward for the season.
“With the number of players we have back and the new additions, we’re excited about and we think we’ve improved on our depth,” he added. “We can put guys in different situations and feel comfortable with them on the ice.”
Though the majority of players will return, Tavistock lost starting goalie Ben Larder to the Amherstburg Admirals. Last year’s backup Jensen Van Boekel will take over, and Justin Osolink will also join the crease. Nine of the team’s top 10 scorers will return, and Jared Yantzi will be back as the team’s captain joined by Angus Rowland and Jake Wiffen as alternates.
Yantzi will be joined on defence by Josh Schinder, Zach Otto, Brody Oliver,DanielMcRoberts,KieranVan Boekel and Taylor Trachsel. Up front, Rowland, Wiffen, Kellen Gedies, Zac Berg, Cole Corriveau, Derek Hyde, Josh Borys, Tanner Johnson and Mat Walsh return with new players in Mitch McKay, Liam O’Dette, Ryan Donat and Matt Gauthier.
Yantzi, O’Dette, Kieran Van Boekel and Rowland will fill the overage spots.
“It helps when the leadership group’s back. With this many veteran players, the leadership group is bigger than one or two players,” Kalbfleisch said. “It’s more than half the team because they know what to expect at this level.”
The coaching staff of Kalbfleisch, Mike Albrecht, Andrew Witter and Drew Wagler also return for a second season with Jordan Zehr moving into the general manager position and Bob Zehr becoming director of hockey operations.
The Braves will also see the majority of their lineup from a close proximity to Tavistock. Of the 22 players, nine are from Tavistock and another nine are from nearby Stratford, Kitchener-Waterloo, Embro and Thamesford. For many of the players, they’ve come up the minor hockey ranks to reach the junior level.
“Having the familiarity with your teammates, whether it’s from minor hockey or a lot of them play ball together and are friends off the ice, that helps a team gel and grow together,” Kalbfleisch said. “We’re thankful for that. It’s a credit to minor hockey. The other part is many grew up watching the Braves, so they want to build on that reputation in the league and have success.”
Tavistock Braves Tanner Johnson tries to corral the puck against the Paris Mounties in their playoff series last year. The Braves begin their season Friday at home against the Ayr Centennials.