Tuesday, Sept. 5th - As the August days introduce cooler temper-atures and the last baseball games have come and gone sports audiences are turning their attention to the dribbling news around the upcoming hockey season. Not surprisingly, the whisperings change day to day, the adjectives become near prolific in exaggeration, and coming challenges, of course, are many.
The Morrisburg Junior Lions are in the thick of local hockey talk. So we sat down with team owner Kevin Casselman to discuss preparations currently underway for the up-coming season, including team members, league changes, best ever, and opportunities in the pipeline.
Over the summer Casselman was dwelling on the thought of distancing himself from a schedule he has been laboriously following since 1985 when he accepted his first coaching position with the Lions.
“We’ve seen so many young guys come and go over the past 38 years,” Kevin starts, always positive about everything Lions, always marketing, “I really think that after last season’s performance, we are on the brink of icing a team I’d consider as more a reflection of some of our great teams through the 1990’s.”
Last season the Morrisburg Junior C Lions dressed their most exciting product, from a fan’s point of view, in more than 10 years. They owned three positions in the league’s Top 10 Scorers until late in the regular season, and had more local talent in their line-up than in many years.
Keon Triccoli-Roik carried the Lion’s colors throughout the 2022-23 season, scoring 46 goals and adding 30 assists over 29 games before taking a serious injury and sitting out the duration of the year.
The smooth skating and high-speed style of Rylan Iwachniuk saw this multi-talented player amass 47 points on 23 goals and 24 assists for 64 points over 36 games. Iwachniuk will be returning for the coming season.
Connor Manderson, awarded the league’s Top Defensive Forward Trophy, suited for 30 games, scored 20 goals and added 33 assists for 53 points through a series of nagging injuries, and will be returning for the 2023-24 season, but this time as part of the coaching team.
Justice Brownlee will also return to the Lions for the 2023-24 campaign and is no stranger to scoring, always in the middle of the action, and consistently playing a full 60-minute game. Brownlee too was hampered by injuries through the past season yet managed 23 goals and 24 assists over 28 games, closing with 47 points. Justice will also be suiting up with the Lions for 2023-24.
“I would say that this season we’re going to have the ability to spread the scoring over all three lines,” Casselman said introducing the subject or replacing the numbers left by Triccoli-Roik’s departure. “We’ve signed a few players that are showing some very interesting promise and with the new league alignment we believe we’re going to have some great opportunities.”
As the Lions prepare for their Main Camp event scheduled for Sunday, August 20th at Cornwall’s Benson Centre, noon thru 5:00 p.m., Casselman informs us of the coaching staff changes and additions.
“Currently I’ll be staying as the Lions General Manager and will continue to share that position and those duties with Cody Casselman as the Assistant General Manager,” he reports, adding, “Connor Manderson and Jaime Smith will be coaching the offensive teams and we’ll have Steve Iwachniuk and Justin Shay as defensive coaches.”
Following the Main Camp the Lions will have three weeks to hone their team skills before entertaining their first pre-season game against the Westport Rideaus on Sunday, September 10th.
“We are playing in a very different schedule this season,” Cassleman adds, explaining a newly adopted North-South division league structure.
“The South Division includes North Dundas, South Grenville, Morrisburg, Westport and Almonte,” he says, “While the North Division is made up of teams from St. Isidore, Vankleek Hill, Metcalfe, Hull and Cumberland.”
“The regular season schedule will make meeting costs, as far as travel is concerned, a little easier and that was a concern,” the Lions GM says, “And the three-home and three away games against each team in our division will make opportunities to develop rivalries that much more available for the fans.”
The Lions will also play a single home and home regular season game(s) with each of the teams in the North Division.
Casselman says the local team too is joining all of the teams in league in offering beer and wine sales during their home games this coming season. This opportunity is an about face for a local team that was forced to operate without neither the popular draw and eventual the financial advantage enjoyed by their counterparts throughout the league.
“It was so refreshing to work with our newly elected council in organizing licensing to help with our ever growing costs of operation,” Kevin explains, “Instead of continuing to face a financial crunch at the end of every season we can now look at being a greater part of the community in the way of providing what hockey fans want.” Beer and wine sales will be available in the Morrisburg Arena for the 2023-24 season, bringing the Lions, albeit somewhat late as the hockey world goes, into the current century.
The Lions General Manager is thrilled too in announcing there is a possibility of more local players joining the ranks of the Lions for the coming season. To date Ben Lapier, Kayne McCadden, Iwachniuk, Brownlee, Josh Broad, Aiden Hutt, Landon Sinfield (forward, Cornwall), Josh Price, Hudson and Owen Fetterly, Curran Gilmour and Jakob Bennett (Ottawa), Austin Lebanon (goal, Monkland), Ben Pilon (forward, Cornwall) Ashton Andrews (forward, Brazier Falls, NY),.
Casselman has just put the final touches on landing Gatineau’s Tristin Ethier and Ottawa’s Tyler Sear, both considered top forward performers.
“We’ve landed a newcomer to the league,” says Casselman, beaming somewhat at the prospects, ”Eamonn McSwiggan attends Algonquin College and wants to play here. He’s bringing size (6’4” - 230 lbs.) and talent that we can to bolster our defensive group.”
The Lions also have available affiliate players known well to local hockey fans, a list that includes James Martin, Ryan Mcnamara (Kemptville), Wyatt Barkley, Alex Larocque, Terrence Mudde, Monty Dejong, and Justin Cyr (forward-Cornwall).
In closing our hockey talk, (the General Manager is supposed to be working the bar at the Tubie Beer Garden), Kevin Casselman is asked the proverbial hockey question eventually asked of all coaches and managers.
“Who is the top all round player you’ve coached or managed over your 38-year career.”
Without a moment of hesitation, the answer is snapped back as though automatic.
Get prepared South Dundas hockey fans. The times are certainly changin’!