By Sam Laskaris

It’s almost time.

Following a successful exhibition schedule which saw them win all four of their contests, the Clarington Eagles are ready to start playing games that matter.

The Junior C squad will kick off its 2021-22 regular season schedule on Saturday with a road match against the Little Britain Merchants. The opening faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

The Eagles and Merchants will also square off in Clarington’s home opener, set for Oct. 7 at Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex. Game time for that outing is 7:20 p.m.

The Eagles’ 23-player season opening roster includes eight individuals who were part of the squad during the 2019-20 campaign, which was cut short in the post-season by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clarington’s lineup will also feature six others who were signed by the franchise a year ago. Despite having some skates with the franchise, those players did not suit up for any matches as the ongoing pandemic wiped out the entire 2020-21 season.

Returnees include goaltender Alex Lepizzera, who was the Eagles’ Number 1 puckstopper two years ago.
“He’s the best goalie in the league,” said Eagles’ head coach/general manager Dean Baumhauer. “And he’s our best player.”

Meanwhile, Clarington’s defence includes a mix of veterans and rookies.

Mitch Doyle and Nate Baumhauer (Dean’s son) are now third-year league veterans. And Carter Watkins is back for his second season with the club. The Eagles also acquired the services of  Ethan Schoonderbeek, who playing rights were owned by the Stouffville Spirit, a Junior A squad.

The Eagles’ blueline also consists of three 2004-born rookies, Ty Harris, Nolan Matheson and Owen McKinnon.

“They’re young,” Baumhauer said. “But all three of them have jam. They have huge potential and upside.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles will have four returning forwards. They are Brent Lace, Joey Cole, Connor Davies and Dawson Manning.

The Eagles will participate in the Orr Division of the Provincial Junior Hockey League. Besides Clarington and Little Britain, the seven-team division also includes the Georgina Ice, Lakefield Chiefs, North Kawartha Knights, Port Perry MoJacks and Uxbridge Bruins.

All squads will play a 36-game regular season schedule, consisting of 18 home and 18 road matches.

Baumhauer believes the Merchants and Bruins are considered the league’s pre-season favourites.

“I know they are older,” he said. “But do I think we can compete with them? Yeah.”

The Eagles underwent an ownership change in August and up until that point it was uncertain whether the franchise would even be icing a team this season.

Baumhauer though is pleased with the squad he has assembled.

“I would think we’re going to be a playoff team and we’ll surprise a couple of teams as well,” he said.