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Grant, Junior Bulldogs excited to get going

General manager Gerry Marangoni and new head coach Donnie Grant discussing the upcoming NSJHL season for the Antigonish Junior ‘B’ Bulldogs.
General manager Gerry Marangoni and new head coach Donnie Grant discussing the upcoming NSJHL season for the Antigonish Junior ‘B’ Bulldogs. - Richard MacKenzie

Training camp starts Sept. 4 at Keating Centre

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

It was an exciting finish to last year’s season for the Antigonish Junior ‘B’ Bulldogs, but not one the team wanted.

A dramatic seven-game series with their arch-rivals, the Strait Pirates, ended the Bulldogs’ season and head coach Dave Synishin’s tenure with the club, as the veteran bench boss stepped away for work reasons.

New coach Donnie Grant, like Synishin an Antigonish native, is excited to get going, starting with the first training camp date Sept. 4.

“It looks like we’re going to have a high number out for camp, compared to some other years,” Grant said. “We’re looking to be a competitive team, but we’ll find out more at camp.

“I think there are going to 15 or 16 forwards who played junior ‘B’ last year, whether it was with this team or not. There are five returning defence, I believe, and the two goalies. On top of that, we’re bringing in a bunch at each position, so we’ll see what happens. I haven’t really seen anyone play a whole lot, so it’s going to be an open tryout.”

Grant, who coached last season with the Cabot Highlanders minor midget team, said he is looking forward to a camp where there are so many returning and experienced players, after running a couple of newer programs the last few years. 

 “The last couple of years I’ve been with programs where we’ve been building up from scratch; consists of zero players and we have to find 20,” he said.

“To be able to go into a camp knowing we have a full squad anyway, and everyone we were able to recruit is looking to bump someone out, is really intriguing. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

General manager Gerry Marangoni said all players who were eligible to come back are expected to be at camp.

“I think we’ll be solid up front,” he said. “We [he and Grant] both talked to a number of players from the midget core and high school core, who are coming out as well, so we have some really good prospects up front and on defence, and we have a number of goalies coming out for the camp,” Marangoni added, noting the age of the returning goalie means identifying someone for the future.

Must wear cages

A big change for the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League this year is the Hockey Canada decision that cages must be worn by all leagues up to the junior ‘B’ level. The Bulldogs are stressing players attending camp must come prepared with a cage on their helmet – no half-visors.

“They’re trying to cut back on the number of dental issues, eye-issues and injuries in general,” Marangoni said of the new rule. “They believe it will be positive in terms of reducing facial injuries.

“Obviously, it’s one of those things where guys coming into the league this year are used to wearing cages, so it will not be a big issue. But for some of our guys, they’re not too happy they have to go and put a cage back on, but they’ve all said, you have to do what you have to do.”

The GM, now going into his third season in the role, said the league is looking to help off-set the cost of all teams changing from half-visors to cages.

 Marangoni added, no doubt, the cages will have an impact on fighting in the league.

“But this league has really changed in the last five years anyways; it has really become a high-skill league,” he said.

“There are many players in this league who, in reality, could be playing junior ‘A.’ There are a couple on our team who are bona-fide junior ‘A’ players but they’re here because they’re at a point in their lives when they’re thinking, maybe I should be thinking more about school, about my future, but I still want to play at a really competitive level of hockey. So they chose the junior ‘B’ route.

“The practice time commitment isn’t as big, but it’s still a very competitive level of hockey, and what has happened in the past four or five years, since you have more of an influx of these types of players into the league, the skill level has gone up. You have second line junior ‘B’ players from a few years ago, now struggling to make a third or fourth line.

“It’s great for the league, it certainly is.”

Camp schedule

  • Sept. 4, 9-10 p.m., Keating Centre
  • Sept. 5, 9-10 p.m., Keating Centre
  • Sept. 7, 3-5 p.m., Keating Centre
  • Sept. 8, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Keating Centre
  • Sept. 12, 8-9:30 p.m., Antigonish Arena
Centre Fearghus MacDonald, pictured celebrating a goal last season, is one of the impact players eligible to return for this season and who will be counted to be a major contributor.
Centre Fearghus MacDonald, pictured celebrating a goal last season, is one of the impact players eligible to return for this season and who will be counted to be a major contributor.

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