Braves re­turn vet­eran core

Tav­i­s­tock has 14 play­ers back when it opens sea­son Fri­day against de­fend­ing cham­pion Ayr

The Beacon Herald - - SPORTS - GREG COL­GAN POST­MEDIA NET­WORK NET­WORK

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.”

GREG COL­GAN/POST­MEDIA

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.

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