Article by I. Schoonderbeek/Media by C. Archer
Will the third time be a charm?
That is the question Clarington Eagles head coach and general manager Dean Baumhauer and his staff will be looking to answer this season after falling a goal short in the Schmalz Cup championship final game for the second consecutive year. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone to bet against them given Baumhauer’s long history of leading championship caliber teams at all levels.
The entire coaching staff from last year’s championship run is back for another kick at the can this year. Baumhauer will be joined on the bench by assistant coaches Jamie Showers, Dave Fairey, and Neil Taylor along with trainer/assistant GM Craig Wilcox.
Every new junior hockey season comes with the departure of several players fans have grown an attachment to. This season is no different. Captain Dawson Manning, Connor Davies, Bryson Kelloway and Carter Watkins all played out their final seasons of junior eligibility. Star forward Brady Darrach departed the team due to work commitments. Nate Stirling (Little Britain), Ty Harris (Little Britain), Marc-Olivier Robert (Amherstview) and Jude Rondina (Orillia) departed via trades. Dale Junkin left for educational pursuits and Owen Canini will skate for the Durham Roadrunners this season.
Once again, the club faced a short off-season to fill the holes in their line-up. In fact, some of the Eagles’ PJHL rivals were already hosting prospect camps while the team was still competing in their extended playoff run.
Here’s how the roster looks on the eve of the regular season:
Despite having the top goaltending duo in the league last season, the Eagles find themselves with an entirely new tandem between the pipes for the second consecutive year.
Marc-Olivier Robert was traded to the Amherstview Jets this summer to allow him to play closer to school.
Clarington then swung an off-season deal with the Lakefield Chiefs to acquire former AAA Toro Aiden Leger.
In a late training camp move that surprised some, the Eagles acquired Alex Chu from Amherstview and sent Jude Rondina to the Orillia Terriers.
“We’ve got two good 2004 born goalies who are going to push each other for the net just like last year,” said Baumhauer. “I’m going to rotate the two of them as much as I can starting with back-to-back games this week and let them eventually decide who the number one guy is. They’re both solid, and one of them will take the top spot. I honestly have no idea which one!”
Baumhauer acknowledged trading the popular Rondina was not an easy decision to make. “It was a tough decision with Jude,” said Dean. “But with him being an overager, we thought we could pick up Chu in a parallel move that could potentially give us two more years of service. It also opens another overage spot to allow us some flexibility for a roster addition later in the season. If you were making the decision strictly on great kid/goalie, you probably don’t make that move. But as a GM, I have to think about beyond this season as well. Jude will go on to make Orillia better and we have confidence in Alex.”
Ryan Hall will once again lead the Clarington blueline after a stellar first season donning the red and black. Joining him from last season’s squad are Cole Williamson, Jake Dupuis and shot blocking machine Nolan Matheson.
“Our back end is in pretty good shape this year in terms of returning players,” said Baumhauer. “When you have guys like Williamson and Hall returning, you’re in good shape right off the bat. Matheson is going into year three with us and we’re looking for him to consistently fill that top-four shut down role. And Duper should be more comfortable in his second year with us after going through two seasons interrupted by Covid and injuries.”
The back end is rounded out by newcomers Kyle Shepherd who was acquired from the Durham Roadrunners, Mason Simpson from the Port Perry Lumberjacks and rookie Kayden Hambly who is making the jump from the U18 AAA Clarington Toros.
Returning forwards include overager Kolby Poulin, third-year players Mitchell Davies, Jordan Shaw, Leyton Aitken, Owen Manarin, Adam Klaas and Hayes Bell and second year winger Trent Gaylor.
They are joined by off-season acquisitions Trevor Urquhart and Kyle Smith from the Roadrunners, Brayden Roberts from the Lumberjacks and Phoenix Smith from the Frankford Huskies. Rookies Brayden Hicks and Brock Mathieson from the U18 AAA Clarington Toros round out the forward group.
Like last season, Baumhauer will be looking for his returning forwards to take the next step in their development and fill more prominent roles in the lineup. “Guys like Bell, Shawsy and Manarin for example…are they a third line or are they ready step up and be top guys?” said Dean. “You saw glimpses of Shaw in the playoffs being able to up his game with intensity and passion and play with better players. But that was a short window. I want to see them play like that consistently for long stretches in the schedule.”
“Poulin was good last season, but I’m expecting more out of him this year,” Dean continued. “He’s got high end skill and sees the ice really well. He rode shotgun with Manning and Darrach for much of last year. This year I’m asking him to drive a line. I want to see him take another step in his final year. Every player on the team should have something to strive for, and ultimately it should be to play better when the season gets tougher.”
Baumhauer is pleased with what he has seen from newcomers Urquhart and Kyle Smith through pre-season play. “They looked real good in the exhibition games,” said Dean. “But I have to be a little guarded in my excitement because they skated all summer while very few others did. So, when everybody else catches up by mid-October, will they still be getting it done offensively? I think they will…but time will tell.”
With the departures of last year’s team leaders Manning, Stirling and Connor Davies, Mitch Davies will assume the captaincy this season with Hall and Williamson serving as alternates. “Mitch Davies is a guy who could have played back in my era,” said Baumhauer. “He plays with his heart on his sleeve and gives you everything he’s got every night. He doesn’t need to say a whole lot in the room. Hall and Williamson being older guys will help him out in the role.”
Baumhauer is optimistic about his club’s chances this season. “A lot of work was put in to get this roster to where it is now over the summer, so hopefully the boys are ready to take another run. We’ve got a good owner, good volunteers, a good coaching staff, and a bunch of local talent. It’s a good ticket for $10…you can’t beat it!”
The regular season kicks off this Thursday at Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex at 7:25 p.m. when the Eagles host the North Kawartha Knights. Come on out for your first chance to see the 2023-24 Clarington Eagles in action!
Season Ticket Info: