Di­verg­ing paths in ju­nior hockey

Fly­ers im­prove, Stars strug­gle in 2010-11


The Trin­ity Pla­cen­tia Ju­nior Fly­ers and the Con­cep­tion Bay North Ju­nior Stars prac­ti­cally traded places in the 2010-11 sea­son of the St. John’s Ju­nior Hockey League.

The Stars, who were the top team in the Avalon divi­sion a year ago, strug­gled might­ily this sea­son, los­ing coach Ed­die Rus­sell half­way through the year and plac­ing last in the divi­sion with a 6-21-1 record. The Bay Roberts team was quickly dis­patched in its first-round play­off se­ries against the St. John’s Ju­nior Caps, los­ing all four games by wide mar­gins.

In con­trast, the Ju­nior Fly­ers flour­ished. Af­ter win­ning a mere three games in its in­au­gu­ral sea­son, the team bounced back with a heav­ily re­vamped lineup to post an 18-8-2 record, good enough for first place in the Avalon divi­sion.

“ We had some good draft picks, and a cou­ple of trades we made got us some over­agers back, so we had a much stronger team this year,” said coach Eu­gene Hutch­ings.

Amongst those im­por­tant ad­di­tions were Dar­rin Wilkins and Ma­son Reid, who both fin­ished in the top-10 in points for the league. Wilkins and for­ward Paul Hutch­ings came to the team this sea­son af­ter spend­ing last year play­ing ju­nior hockey in On­tario, while Reed was picked up in a trade with the Ju­nior Stars.

Strong reg­u­lar sea­son play made the Fly­ers favourites to de­feat the South­ern Shore Ju­nior Break­ers in the first round of the play­offs. How­ever, the Break­ers played their way into a 3-1 se­ries lead, and though the Fly­ers man­aged to bounce back to force a sev­enth game, the Break­ers pulled through with a 9-4 vic­tory.

“ I don’t know if we had a tough se­ries,” said Hutch­ings. “ We had an un­lucky se­ries, be­cause we out­shot them 52-25 pretty well ev­ery game, but we came up against a very strong goal­tender (Brian Ron­ayne) for the Shore.”

Hutch­ings be­lieves the game seven at­mos­phere, which in­cluded a sell­out crowd at the Whit­bourne Sta­dium, af­fected the nerves of some of his play­ers.

How­ever, Hutch­ings said the loss hardly puts a damper on what has been a great year for the team. The Fly­ers will lose six play­ers due to age, but Hutch­ing said the core of the team will re­main, and with a solid sea­son un­der its belt, the team can im­prove next year.

“ My 20-year-olds next year are go­ing to be that much more ex­pe­ri­enced, and I think they’re go­ing to learn from this year, which is great,” said Hutch­ings, who added the fan sup­port this sea­son was been fan­tas­tic

The Ju­nior Stars’ sea­son was ham­pered by a lack of com­mit­ment from play­ers, ac­cord­ing to gen­eral man­ager Brain Hur­ley, who also took over be­hind the bench af­ter Rus­sell left the team.

“ We had about 10 or 11 play­ers that were com­mit­ted, and the rest weren’t,” said Hur­ley. “ It was no dif­fer­ent be­fore or af­ter Ed­die left. There was cer­tainly no prob­lem with Ed­die — it was a prob­lem with the kids we had there.”

The lack of com­mit­ment re­sulted in the Stars dress­ing a dozen play­ers each game, leav­ing the team heav­ily dis­ad­van­taged play­ing op­po­nents with a full bench.

Hur­ley looks for­ward to next year. There are a num­ber of play­ers from the AAA-mid­get team in Bay Robert el­i­gi­ble to join the Stars, though Hur­ley is un­sure whether they will for sure. The Stars will also get to pick three times in the first nine se­lec­tions of the up­com­ing draft.

“ We’re hop­ing to add some good tal­ent next year to make us more com­pet­i­tive. We’re not los­ing any play­ers ( lo­cally).”

As for the coach­ing sit­u­a­tion, Hur­ley said they will soon be ad­ver­tis­ing to hire a new coach. Some in­di­vid­u­als have ex­pressed in­ter­est, but Hur­ley said it’s wide open at this point.

Lee Ne­whook was one of the Trin­ity Pla­cen­tia Ju­nior Fly­ers rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the 2011 St. John’s Ju­nior Hockey League All-Star Game. The Fly­ers had a great year in its sec­ond sea­son of play, and hope to im­prove next year.

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