‘A’ reason to play
Berth in Herder up for grabs in Avalon East league
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
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.