KIRKLAND LAKE - The defending Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League champion Kirkland Lake Gold Miners begin the defence of their crown Friday as they host the Mattawa Blackhawks in their season open at the The Joe.
Miners’ General Manager and Head Coach Marc Lafleur says he and the team “are excited and ready to go.” Lafleur adds “we need to start playing meaningful games.”
Going into training camp the only real question mark was finding some goal scorers who could replace the likes of Austin Rust and Sam Wilbur. It appears the team has found some of that with Tyler Romain who had an impressive camp. Lafleur also points to a number of other players who looked good during the exhibition schedule.
He says rookie Ryan Swain has impressed him and his staff. “He has a combination of size and speed, he reminds me of Everett Thompson.” He also points to Tristan Hazlett, Jeremy Dumont and 16-year old Hearst product Joel Fortin. In fact, in his opinion Fortin is “ahead of the curve when it comes to being a 16-year-old in the league.”
He adds Hailebury’s Alexi Rivet has also looked more than comfortable. Between the pipes, veteran Kenny Fitzgerald will get the start Friday. He adds however both Fitzgerald and rookie Devon Desbastos both had solid camps and he is more than comfortable with playing either one of them at any time. In terms of which players will wear letters on their jerseys, including the coveted captaincy, as of Wednesday Lafleur said that decision was still being discussed.
And looking ahead to tonight’s game and beyond, he feels this season will be tighter and more competitive in the standings than last year which will make for an exciting season. With the addition of Cochrane to the league, which in relative terms is close to both Iroquois Falls and Kirkland Lake and having the two North Bay areas squads in their division as well, Lafleur feels there will be a number of rivalries develop which is good for the fans, teams and the league itself.
As for predictions, Coach Lafleur says he is not one to make any. He says he is not going to give any of the teams fuel to use. He adds many times people make bold predictions and those words can come back to haunt you so he is just not going to do it.
Game time is the usual 7:30 start however before the puck drop there will be an introduction of the players and then fans will get their first opportunity to see the team’s championship banner.