PHOTO: With leading scorers Matt Forchuk (#10) and Logan Ferguson (#20) coming back to join the Eagles next year, the 2016-2017 AJHL season holds plenty of promise for the Canmore Eagles. – photo courtesy of Pam Doyle.
Now that the Canmore Eagles have been officially eliminated from the 2016 Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs, Eagles Head Coach and General Manager Andrew Milne can now turn his attention to what his hockey club will look like when the 2016-17 season rolls around next September.
“Overall the 2015-16 season was a good season for us, we made progress on a lot of fronts,” said Milne, who inserted 11 rookie players into his lineup last year. “We finished in the top half of the Southern Division standings, won a playoff series against Drumheller, and then we saw first-hand how much improvement we still have to make to beat a team like Brooks. We’ve played 20 playoff games in the past three years, so we're gaining some valuable post-season experience in the process.”
THE 20-YEAR-OLD DEPARTURES
Defencemen – Braiden Doucette (53 pts), Brett Schimmel (22 pts) and Jakob Lavoie (12 pts)
Forwards – Lane Olson (50 pts), Brett Radford (42 pts) and Kurt Hildebrand (6 pts)
“I can’t say enough good things about our 20-year-old players this season,” said Milne. “Every one of them gave us everything they had to give – right to the last minute of the last game – they never gave up. They were great on the ice, in the dressing room and good ambassadors in the community too. We're certainly going to miss them, but that’s the nature of junior hockey. Hopefully the boys that follow in their footsteps will have learned how to lead.”
THE NEW 20-YEAR-OLDS
The Eagles currently have eight future 20-year-olds on their roster for next season so something will have to give as the club is only allowed to carry six 20-year-old players once the 2016-17 regular season starts.
The upcoming group of 20-year-olds include goaltender Ryan Bontorin, defenceman Jonas Gordon and Brayden Biccum, and forwards Matt Forchuk, Braden Saretsky, Kyle Pauls, Ryley Risling and Colby Livingstone.
The Eagles appear solid in the nets for next season as 20-year-old Ryan Bontorin came on strong as the 2015-16 season progressed and was probably the team’s Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. Bontorin proved he can handle a heavy work load as he started 29 of the club’s last 33 games since Jan. 1.
Back-up goaltender Ryan Gilchrist’s status remains “up in the air” as his playing rights are owned by the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League.
The Eagles should be strong up front to start the 2016-17 season with both leading scorers Matt Forchuk and Logan Ferguson expected back and hoping to improve on their 72-point performances from last year – good enough for a fourth-place tie in the AJHL scoring parade. Fellow forwards Coy Prevost (44 pts), Adam Tisdale (38 pts), and Braden Saretsky (37 pts) all enjoyed excellent rookie seasons, while Canmore product Kyle Pauls will be returning for his fifth AJHL season. Twenty-year-old forwards Ryley Risling, who had 14 points in just 15 games last year before suffering a shoulder injury, and trade deadline acquisition Colby Livingstone should also add scoring depth to the club. Three 1998 born forwards Jake Ashton, Daylan Marchi, and Nolan Kurylo all showed great tenacity last season and should be much improved for their second season in the AJHL.
With three veteran defenceman all graduating (Doucette, Schimmel and Lavoie), Coach Milne will almost certainly be looking to add a veteran defenceman or two to his lineup for next season.
Expected returnees to the Eagles defence include Brayden Biccum, Jonas Gordon, Adamu Tanaka, Cole Noble and Jarell Pinchuk.
“Defence will certainly be our biggest concern heading into next year,” said Milne. “Doucette, Schimmel and Lavoie all played a ton of minutes for us last year and their experience will be missed, but the other guys all saw their fair share of game action and will be better prepared for next year.”
NOTEBOOK: The 2016-17 AJHL schedule is expected to be released in mid June . . . . This year’s regular season will start on Friday, September 16 and will end on Sunday, March 5, 2017 . . . The Eagles training camp will open on Saturday, September 3, 2016. . . Season tickets for next year are now on sale – please contact marketing@canmoreeagles for further information.