There is plenty of experience lacing them up for the 2017-18 St. F.X. X-Men hockey team and that has expectations high for the two-time defending conference champions.
“It’s a veteran group,” head coach Brad Peddle said about the team as they prepared for an evening practice Sept. 26.
“Expectations are pretty high, as far as what we expect as a coaching staff – day-in, day-out –with this group. It’s not like when you have a little bit of a younger team; a younger group that’s going to grow. Yes, we still have to get better as we go, but a lot of these guys have won a championship and a lot of them have won two in a row so, we’ll go as far as those guys want to take us in terms of getting back there.
“It’s minimal turnover; we’ve added two defensemen and one forward and lost one defenseman and one forward … we’re going to rely on our veteran guys to lead the way.”
As Peddle points out, there are no changes in goal.
“Both goalies are back; Chase [Marchand] came in last year and after Brandon [Hope] played really well to start, Chase got hot and, really, he ended up being the guy down the stretch and finished as a first-team all-star in our league which is really unheard of for a rookie goalie.
“So he had a tremendous first-year and Brandon was great in a support-role, a great teammate, and now they’re both back and they have to be key cogs to our team. They’re both capable and, right now (pre-season games), they’ve been splitting. We’ll see what happens down the stretch as we get ready for the regular season. They’re both what we consider veteran goalies who we have all the confidence in the world can give us a chance to win every night.”
Six defensemen return but Mitch Wheaton is dealing with an injury and is out long-term.
“So we really return five and added two; but, again, when you can return five defense from a championship team,” Peddle said about the experience advantage.
“We thought, in the off-season, we had to get deeper on the backend. To bring in a player like Santino Centorame who can control the play, a mobile defenseman who, I think, we’ll give us another element on offense from our backend.
“Santino was a first-team all-star in the OHL, [he had] several pro offers but decided this was where he wanted to be.
“Then we added Daniel Robertson; he is coming off a Memorial Cup with his hometown Windsor Spitfires. He’s about a month away before he’ll be able to play, he’s coming off an injury, but he is a good, steady defenseman who will give us depth and is a high-character teammate who is willing to do whatever it takes to win.
“Adding those two guys to our backend is really important because they’re two different players and, ideally, we wanted to add an offensive minded, puck-moving ‘D’ and another shutdown ‘D’, and we did that with those two guys.”
Peddle talked about returning ‘D’ Jagger Dirk and Craig Duininck being key to X-Men success.
“Last year, Jagger was an all-star in our league, and Craig is, what I consider, the best defender in the league,” he said. “So those are our two veteran fourth-year guys who are going to have to be key vets back there and really need to lead our defense.”
While they only lost one forward, it’s no small loss when you consider it’s last year’s captain and former AUS MVP Eric Locke.
“One player, but a darn good one in that; he brought so much to our team,” Peddle said.
“He really drove the bus in terms of how he worked every day in practice, during games, it didn’t matter; he only had one-speed and his work ethic was contagious to our group.
“The great thing is we have 13 forwards back who have won, who understand what it takes to win, and who have seen a good captain, leader, like Eric Locke, what he did every day to prepare to win. It rubbed off on these guys.”
The forward added is Adam Laishram.
“A good two-way guy who has skill but also plays a real-hard game and is coming off a Memorial Cup with Windsor as well,” Peddle said.
“Although we have a lot of returning guys and a good veteran core, when you can add a first-team all-star defenseman from the OHL and two guys from a Memorial Cup championship team, you’re adding the right players and right kind of people to our program.”
Peddle talked about the parity in the league and trying to accomplish consistency.
“We say it all the time in this league as coaches because it’s true; there are no easy nights, you can’t take a night off,” he said.
“And, going back to our group, if there is one-thing we’re trying to get it’s that understanding to play the same way, every night, no matter the opponent. No matter if it’s the seventh place team or first place.
“That’s the process we’re going to focus on from game-to-game. Not worry about the end of the year because a championship is a long way away. Focus on every game because any team in this league can sting you and that’s been proven.”
Duininck also talked about consistency in his outlook for the season.
“We always like to say we have high expectations here but, now, more than ever,” he said.
“It’s hard to win back-to-back and even harder to win three in a row. So you keep that in the back of your mind while taking it one game at a time because you know you can’t win a championship tomorrow, this weekend or early in the season; you do what you have to, to set yourselves up well every weekend. It’s all about taking it one step at a time while keeping your big goals in the back of your mind.”
The X-Men begin their regular season this Friday (Oct. 6) at Acadia with their home-opener the following night, at the Keating Centre, versus St. Mary’s. Puck drop is 7 p.m.
The X-Men are also on home-ice Oct. 11 versus Acadia; also a 7 p.m. start-time.