Canucks set the bar high
The Niagara Falls Canucks head into the 2018/19 season with high expectations.
The Canucks haven’t won a Golden Horseshoe championship since 2006 and head coach/owner Frank Pietrangelo would love nothing more than to put an end to that drought.
“Our goal this year is to win a league championship and to get to the Sutherland Cup and win a Sutherland Cup championship,” Pietrangelo said. “We can say that out loud now. It is a realistic goal for our team this year.”
Pietrangelo’s optimism is based two factors — faith in his squad and the absence of the Caledonia Corvairs, who have won the past five league titles and are on a one-year leave of absence.
“This is what it’s supposed to be all about. You start the season and everyone has a realistic, optimistic view they can win and we’re one of those teams,” Pietrangelo said.
Pietrangelo feels the league is wide open in the absence of the Corvairs.
“I think this year is a little different from in past years. Let’s be honest, when Caledonia was here you’re trying to avoid them in the playoffs in the second round,” he said. “This year, I think there will be a little bit more parity without Caledonia here.”
Pietrangelo feels teams can now concentrate on the big picture of developing players and getting better as the season goes on.
“We’re preaching that it’s a long road,” he said. “Last year, you look at the standings every day because you want to avoid them as long as you can. Now, it really doesn’t matter where you finish.
“It’s just a matter being prepared and peaking for the playoffs.”
The Canucks feature a good blend of experience and newcomers with 10 returning players as well as some prominent additions.
Back from last season are goaltenders Zach Moore and Noah Fortuna, defencemen Dillon Hill, Eric Becker and Justin Schneider, and forwards Justin Kyle, Patrick McCabe, Matthew Riva, Garrett Downie and Milos Todorovic.
“It’s a good nucleus. A lot of guys are returning for their second or third year,” Pietrangelo said. “These guys have been here, they’re experienced guys, and they have proven they can play in this league.
“It definitely helps (to have veterans) but you always have to bring in fresh faces.”
Among the newcomers are new captain Ben Evans, who has a year of experience in the Ontario Hockey League, and former Thorold Blackhawks Mitch Mendonca, David D’Agostino and Matt Maidens.
“They are local guys who are experienced who played in this league, had success in this league and moved on, and now are coming back going to university locally and living at home. It’s nice to have them back,” Pietrangelo said.
The Canucks are carrying one 16-year-old this season, forward Owen Holmes, who was drafted by the Flint Generals.
Overall, Pietrangelo feels the Canucks will be solid from the goal out.
“It all starts in the net, we all know that,” he said. “You have to be good away from the puck but your goaltender is huge. Moore has been really good for us the last couple of years. He handles the puck tremendously which is a great asset as well. Having that comfort there with him is great.”
He also feels the offence will more than hold its own.
“I think we’re going to be a very good offensive team. Playing at the Gale Centre with the big ice, we try and pick players that can skate and generate offence. We will have a very strong offensive cub that can keep rolling at you. We will be a good skating and highly skilled team.”
The Canucks are in St. Catharines Friday at 7 p.m. and home to the Falcons Sunday at 6 p.m.
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