By Dan Plouffe
It reads out a bit like a Mastercard commercial.
Number of times home over six-week period before season: 3.
Number of annual kilometres on the car for scouting and recruiting trips: 93,000.
Is that the price of a Central Canada Hockey League title?
Nepean Raiders coach and general manager Peter Goulet hopes so, but the problem is he’s not the only one putting in the mileage in the Jr. ‘A’ loop, and the result is highly competitive clubs across the board.
“If you look across Canada, I don’t think you’ll see any tighter race between fourth and 11th place than what we had last year. That’s a tribute to the guys in the league and how the league’s run,” says Goulet, who’s entering his second season calling the shots for the Raiders. “You’ve got to show up every night or you’re not going to win hockey games. It’s that simple.”
Nepean is coming off a year where they survived a season-long dogfight for positioning to earn a playoff spot as the sixth seeds, only to fall 4-3 to Brockville in their best-of-seven first-round series.
“We played a series where we had four of our top-six forwards out and one of our top-four D out, so if they were in the lineup, it’s a different story maybe,” Goulet recounts, calling it a “good” season, although he was disappointed in the overcome overall. “We came together nicely down the stretch and hopefully this year we’ll get out of the gate a little better and see what happens.”
One of the big keys for the Raiders early on will be how well the new man charged with keeping the gate closed to the opposition settles in. Matt Zawadski takes the place of 2010-11 goalie Dan Altshuller, who led the Canadian under-18 men’s team to a gold medal in this summer’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and has now joined the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.
There’s also a major hole to fill up front with last season’s leading scorer, Brent Norris, gone to the U.S. That’s 41 goals and 75 points in 58 games out of the lineup.
“It’s just about being more of a complete team,” Goulet describes. “We don’t have Brent Norris to lean on, so we’ve just got to come together.”
Headlining the list of Raiders returnees are captain Craig Cowie, who averaged better than a point-per-game last season, and Ryan Johnston, a defenceman who registered 42 points, plus left-winger Kenny Neil and centre Keenan Hodgson.
There’s also several solid additions to Nepean’s roster including Ryan McLean, who played three years in the OHL and dual-citizen Vincent Llorca of France, a physically imposing defender. Point-a-game Ontario provincial junior league transfer Jeff Gottzman also joins the team along with draft pick Mac Weegar.
“I’m excited about the year,” Goulet adds. “It’s too early to tell. I think we’ve put a good team together and once the season starts, we’ll know what we have.”
The Raiders play Smiths Falls and Carleton Place during this weekend’s season-opening showcase weekend in Kanata before their home opener on Wednesday, Sept. 17 at Nepean Sportsplex.