‘A’ rea­son to play

Berth in Herder up for grabs in Avalon East league

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY KENN OLIVER TC ME­DIA The Tele­gram

One can ex­pect a hun­grier style of play from teams in the Avalon East Se­nior Hockey League (AESHL) this sea­son. That’s be­cause, as newly minted league pres­i­dent Paddy Daly puts it: “there’s a car­rot at the end of the stick.”

At Hockey New­found­land and Labrador’s fall plan­ning meet­ing in Gan­der last month, the Se­nior Coun­cil granted the AESHL se­nior A sta­tus, giv­ing the cir­cuit’s cham­pion the right to play for the Herder Me­mo­rial Tro­phy against the New­found­land and Labrador Se­nior A Hockey League (NLSAHL) champ.

“I think it gives an added lus­tre to the league and, hope­fully, the fans will rec­og­nize that and the play­ers, teams, coaches and their spon­sors will all get be­hind it,” says Daly.

“We thought we would try to bring back some pres­tige to a very pres­ti­gious, his­toric league. Get­ting back to the Herder gives it the ex­tra panache that we think will help it sell.”

The 2015-16 sea­son, the league’s 49th on record, be­gan Fri­day at the Jack Byrne Arena in Tor­bay, where the North­east Ea­gles hosted the Con­cep­tion Bay North CeeBee Stars, back in the league af­ter a four-year hia­tus.

Hav­ing the CeeBees back in the fold, Daly sug­gests, also adds to the league’s stature.

“(They) are one of the most his­toric fran­chises in se­nior hockey in this prov­ince and we’re more than pleased they’re back.”

Jamie Tobin, coach of the de­fend­ing cham­pion South­ern Shore Pugli­se­vich Break­ers, says his play­ers were ex­cited about the pos­si­bil­ity of play­ing in the pro­vin­cial se­nior men’s brag­ging rights last year when the idea was briefly floated.

Know­ing a shot at the Herder is on the line at sea­son’s end should only im­prove the qual­ity of play.

“It’s more in­cen­tive start­ing off the sea­son,” says Tobin, who won six Herders as a player, one each with the Fla­trock Fly­ers and the CeeBee Stars and four as part of the Break­ers.

“I think that some of our guys are go­ing to be hun­grier than they were last year and I can see all teams hav­ing the same hunger.”

Of course, nei­ther Daly nor Tobin are fool­ing them­selves about the chal­lenge that rests with tak­ing on the top team from the NLSAHL. There’s a great deal of def­er­ence shown to­wards a league that can eas­ily brand it­self semi-pro­fes­sional with dozens of former pro­fes­sional play­ers, in­clud­ing a num­ber of Na­tional Hockey League-drafted play­ers, along with a bevy of grad­u­ates of col­le­giate and ma­jor ju­nior hockey.

“There’s no deny­ing the NLSAHL is pretty stout. They’ve got an incredible depth of tal­ent,” says Daly, while also point­ing out the Avalon East boasts some qual­ity se­nior hockey play­ers such as mul­ti­ple Herder win­ner Chris Sparkes (North­east), Tyler Gale (Bell Is­land), and former AH­Ler Robert Slaney (CeeBees), among oth­ers.

Still, in or­der to ad­dress any con­crete or per­ceived lack of par­ity, HNL has granted the AESHL champ the abil­ity to add up to six strength­en­ing play­ers to its ros­ter ahead of the Herder show­down, which will be a be­stof-five af­fair, with the NLSAHL win­ner play­ing host to the first two games March 19-20, and the AESHL champ host­ing Games 35, if nec­es­sary, on March 25-27.

“If we get good goal­tend­ing from our league rep­re­sen­ta­tive and the right strength­en­ing play­ers fit into the team nicely, we’re con­fi­dent we’re not go­ing to be send­ing lambs to the slaugh­ter,” in­sists Daly.

“If it ends up the other league is too pow­er­ful for us to deal with in that fash­ion, then we’ll go back to the draw­ing board and see what can make us com­pet­i­tive.”

First, though, there’s the 24game sea­son at hand and the im­por­tant task of har­ness­ing any lin­ger­ing mo­men­tum cre­ated in a dra­matic, back-and-forth seven-game fi­nal last year be­tween the Break­ers and North­east Ea­gles.

“It was a stel­lar brand of hockey, ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive,” says Daly. “We want to build on that and hope the fans come out in droves to sup­port all five teams in ev­ery sin­gle barn.”

Con­cep­tion Bay North CeeBee Stars

COM­PASS FILE PHOTO

For­ward Robert Slaney, seen here play­ing with the CeeBee Stars in 2013, will be re­lied on heav­ily for of­fence this sea­son as the CeeBees re­turn to the Avalon East Se­nior Hockey League.

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