Falcons back at it
The St. Catharines Falcons returned to the ice Tuesday for the first time in more than six months under drastically different conditions from when the 2019/20 season ended.
The Falcons last played March 4 when they completed a four-game sweep over the Pelham Panthers in the first round of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, Golden Horseshoe Conference playoffs.
The Falcons then began to prepare for a matchup with the Niagara Falls Canucks in the semifinals when the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of the remainder of the season.
About 25 skaters hit the ice at Jack Gatecliff Arena Tuesday, but the changes were evident. Players were permitted in the building only 15 minutes prior to practice and were instructed to leave without showering as quickly as possible afterward. Players could not engage in physical contact on the ice while a roll call took place for COVID tracking purposes.
“We were reminded last season that we cannot take this game for granted,” Falcons coach Tyler Bielby said before putting the Falcons through an hour-long workout. “Whether it’s a pandemic, an injury, a change in life you cannot control, playing competitive hockey can be taken from you in a split second.
“We are beyond excited to get back on the ice because we have a new understanding for time and the potential of it being taken away from you. We will not take our time together for granted and will make the most of every chance we get together.”
The GOJHL has set a Dec. 2 date to start the 2020/21 season, pending government approval.
Until then, Bielby and his staff plan to take advantage of three hours of ice a week to start.
“I think to maximize our results at the end of the season, whatever that looks like, we have to come in at the beginning and prepare for that Dec. 2 date,” said Bielby, who led the Falcons to a 33-15-0-2 mark in his first season behind the bench.
“There are unknowns. We don’t know what Dec. 2 brings but we do know in the moment we are allowed to get together as a team and we’ll make the most of that scenario using every minute we have to prepare so that when the puck drops we aren’t in mid-season form, we’re in playoff form.”
Bielby is in uncharted territory as a coach with three months of practice ahead.
“We’re going to have to keep them engaged. That is a bit of the unknown, how we’re going to do that, but the first piece is making sure we’re getting together as a team and we create that culture by getting to the rink a few times a week and making sure there is a goal,” he said. “If we lose sight of that, they’re going to get lazy or stagnant pretty quickly.
“The good thing is these are teenagers full of energy so they’re coming out of the gate strong and fast because they are exciting to be back at the rink, too.”
As far as the team itself, the Falcons are returning seven players from last season — goaltender Blair Coffin, defencemen Jonah Boria, Carter Geoffroy, Joe Colasurdo and Brady Caruso, and forwards Trent Glenney and Michael Santini.
“If you look at the goalies out, we’re real strong on defence plus we’ll be adding bodies as time goes on,” St. Catharines general manager Frank Girhiny said.
Girhiny admitted it has been a strange off-season.
“Some players that were coming to Brock have deferred so they’re staying home and the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) is starting later so there could be a lot of movement there as well,” he said. “We’re making calls and talking to Tier 2 teams because they have their camps starting and they have more bodies in their camps.
“It’s been a little frustrating but we’re real excited.”
The Falcons have added 16-year-old forwards Tai York, a sixth-round selection of the Barrie Colts, and Cam Lowe of Niagara Falls, who was selected in the seventh round by the Erie Otters.
Other notable newcomers include forward Kyle Glenney and defenceman Josh Reilly, a 2019 Otters draft pick. Goaltender Ben Bonisteel, who was selected by the Colts in the OHL U-18 draft and played in one game with the Falcons last year, gives the club a solid back-up to Coffin.
“The young players we signed out of major midget, we have six players on the roster that affiliated with us last year so we know them quite well,” Girhiny said. “Others are affiliated with other junior teams so the kids we’re bringing in are 18 year-olds who have some exposure to the league so I’m pretty happy with the young guys, it’s just a matter of us filling out and getting older and deeper up top.”
The Falcons will practice every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the time being.
“Last year as a rookie coach coming into training camp, I felt I had to figure everything out in the first 24 hours,” Bielby said. “There is a little more leisure this year, but having said that, the team and organization that is the most prepared and uses every day to the fullest is the team that comes out of the gate Dec. 2.”
Falcon facts: Goalie Ethan Cook has moved on to Grand Prairie of the Alberta Junior Hockey League while forward Thomas Lenart will be skating with the Burlington Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League . . . Assistant coaches Greg Jambrosich, John DiLorenzo, Brody Kritsch, goaltending coach Derek Bujan and assistant general manager Zach Schipper will all return. As well, former Welland Cougar Tony Notarianni has been added to the staff.
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