Men’s hockey season preview:
Puck drops on historic drive for five
CALGARY — Kevin Lessard, the most seasoned player on the roster, has already detected something about this season’s edition of the SAIT Trojans.
“The first thing that I’ve noticed is, whenever there’s a scrum, nobody’s leaving anybody behind,” says Lessard (4th year, Tring-jonction, Que., petroleum engineering, AJHL Canmore). “That’s a characteristic of a good team, for sure.”
The Trojans, under veteran head coach Ken Babey, are taking a run this winter at an unprecedented fifth straight Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) title in men’s hockey — beginning Friday, Oct. 8, when they host the Grant MacEwan University Griffins at 7 p.m. at the SAIT Arena.
And to do it, they’ll need silk. They’ll need sandpaper. They’ll need lights-out goaltending, and deadly special teams. In other words, a tall order in a league that has a way of keeping everyone humble.
“I think we’re quick. Maybe a little bit faster than we were last year,” says Ken Babey, entering his 24th season as the Trojans’ head coach. “It’s a wait-and-see scenario on whether we’re going to be as physical; I don’t know that, although I see signs of it.
“Realistically, (Blake) Robson’s not here. (Marco) Guercio’s not here. And Brock (Michalsky’s) not here. They’re three key elements of last year’s team, and we’ve got to find the chemistry to replace them.”
Besides the smooth-skating Robson and his 48 points, the abrasive Guercio and his 28 points, and ex-captain Michalsky with his steady leadership, the Trojans have also seen the last of forwards Geoff Rollins, Kyle Dorowicz, and Shadoe Stoodley, defenceman Jessie Tressiera, and goaltender Landon Kroeker.
The Men of Troy have 14 returnees from the 2009-10 squad that cut a swath through the ACAC with a 23-3-2 record, and was virtually unopposed until the Concordia Thunder pushed SAIT to the five-game limit during the ACAC championship final in March.
Back up front are last winter’s scoring champion Shane Lust (4th year, Calgary, business administration, AJHL Calgary Royals) and the man he beat out for that crown by one point, Mike Ullrich (3rd year, Banff, Alta., hospitality management, BCHL Vernon), as well as two-way centre Ryan Hyland (4th year, Okotoks, Alta., petroleum engineering, CIS York), the forceful Garrett Watson (2nd year, Calgary, business administration, BCHL Westside) and the speedy Robert Nocera (2nd year, Calgary, hospitality management, AJHL Drumheller).
Clayton Goodall (3rd year, Maple Ridge, B.C., hospitality management, AJHL Grande Prairie) is back to anchor the SAIT blue line, as well as Brad Plumton (2nd year, Calgary, business administration, BCHL Westside) and Jon Malin (3rd year, Okotoks, Alta., welding engineering, AJHL Calgary Royals).
But with Lust, Nocera, Travis Bradshaw (2nd-year forward, Calgary, business administration, AJHL Calgary Royals), and Sean Bassingthwaite (3rd year, Red Lake, Ont., CJHL Fort William) all injured to start the season, Babey believes the goaltending corps, led by returnee Tommy Tartaglione (2nd year, Harbor City, Calif., new media production and design, WHL Prince George), will need to be sharp right out of the gate.
“One hundred and 10 per cent,” agrees Tartaglione. “There will be times early where we’re going to be confused, and we’re going to need our goalies to make a big save early in the game, when we’re not quite settled in. There will be new lines, people playing in new positions . . . that’s when you really lean on your goalies.”
Noticeable newcomers up front during the pre-season include Trevor Bailey (1st year, Winfield, B.C., academic upgrading, BCHL Westside), who’s proven both tenacious and offensively gifted; the defensively responsible Graham Dearle (1st year, Calgary, petroleum engineering, CHL Oklahoma City); and unsung hero Warren Muir (1st year, Nanaimo, B.C., academic upgrading, BCHL Alberni Valley) a penalty killing specialist.
The steady Colin Scherger (1st year, Macklin, Sask., academic upgrading, AJHL Brooks) and the hulking Joel Woznikoski (1st year, Surrey, B.C., business administration, BCHL Westside) have impressed among the rearguard corps, while Scott Orth (2nd year, Cranbrook, B.C., administrative information management, BCHL Langley) has joined the Trojans from the ACAC’s Portage College Voyageurs to add some goaltending stability.
“I want to help the team out as best I can, playing the body and getting the odd helper once in a while,” says Scherger.
“I’m kind of a stay-at-home defenceman,” adds Scherger, who played in the Western Hockey League with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Prince Albert Raiders, and Prince George Cougars. “Keeping it simple is usually a good strategy.”
After watching his squad win the 22nd annual SAIT Eye Opener Tournament last weekend — the first time SAIT has won its own pre-season affair in back-to-back years — Babey believes his club, even with injuries and a shaky 2-3 exhibition logbook, is rounding into shape at the right time.
“We’ve built a winning culture here by bringing in the right people and demanding hard work,” says Babey. “I think the guys in that room are starting to feel it and recognize it.”