Blackhawks rebuild roster
It may be tough to tell the Thorold Blackhawks without a program this season.
The Blackhawks are in full retool mode after losing about a dozen players who have moved on to other programs, plus four 20-year-olds who graduated.
Head coach and team owner Scott Barnes was kept busy this summer trying to fill out the roster.
“When all this was going on in the summer I was trying to find some guys to commit so I have a team from September,” he said. “Luckily, everything has worked out to put some good players on board.”
Among those who have moved on are leading scorer Nicolas Rubino, Brett Bressette, Nick Gidney, Joel Chauvin, Trevor Neumann and goaltender Chas Grsic.
“It’s something you’re not ready to deal with. I knew we were going to lose a bunch of guys but I thought we would have more returning for at least one more year. I had to fill out more spots than I envisioned,” Barnes admitted.
The Blackhawks do have some returning veterans. Dylan Scriver (23-27-50) and Sam Vanderzalm (12-11-13) are back up front while defencemen Austin Jensen, Ethan Mercer and Jacob Anger are back. Buffalo resident Griffin Green has committed as well, although his availability is in question with the border being shut down between Canada and the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noah Fortuna, who had a solid year with a 3.10 goals-against average and .909 save percentage, also returns.
“He should be one of the top goalies in the league this year being a 19-year-old, third-year guy,” Barnes said.
Barnes has already signed his two 16-year-olds, forward Ethan Whitcomb and defenceman Conner Thompson-Dick, who both played for the Niagara North Stars last season. Whitcomb, who collected 16 goals and 29 points in 27 games, was an eighth-round selection by the Guelph Storm while Thompson-Dick was selected in the 11th round by the Erie Otters.
Other notable newcomers include 18-year-old forward Liam Loftus, who played with the Toronto Young Nats; Harris Goan, a 19-year-old defenceman who had 11 goals at the junior C level for Schomberg; and Bennett Barnes, son of former Port Colborne Sailors coach Ryan Barnes who played in the High Performance Hockey League last season.
The Blackhawks took to the ice for the first time Wednesday in Niagara-on-the-Lake where they will practice until Sept. 20 when the ice will be ready at the Thorold Arena.
Barnes said he has tried to keep the numbers to a minimum with between 30-35 at camp.
“I’m not bringing a lot of guys in because we didn’t know what the whole process was going to be,” he said.
Barnes, who runs summer hockey schools which focus on skill development, has some specific plans for the next few months of practice.
The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League has set a date of Dec. 2 to start, pending government approval.
“It’s kind of getting back into the groove of things and basically getting all our new players into the organization and just building habits is what my goal is for September,” he said. “I have a game plan in place what I want to accomplish every month but everything is kind wait and see.”
Barnes said players were motived during summer workouts despite the situation.
“It was a crazy summer just seeing how much kids want and what they want to do. Whether we’re playing in December or whenever, kids want to be on the ice,” he said. “They want to work hard and not lose their skill. There are a lot of things we can work on even though we’re not playing games. For me, it’s kind of what I do. I’m kind of looking forward to the next couple of months and then come game time, we’ll be ready to play.”
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