Falcons in it to win it
Cal Petrovsky is one of a handful of players back from last year for the St. Catharines Falcons. Photo: BILL POTRECZ
The St. Catharines Falcons are once again setting the bar high for the upcoming Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season.
The Falcons followed up their 2021-22 Sutherland Cup championship with another solid season last year that saw them lead the GOJHL in winning percentage in the regular season and general manager/coach Tyler Bielby feels the team will once again be in the hunt for the big prize.
“When we spoke to players in the offseason, whether they were 17 years old or a 20-year-old, we made sure they knew what we were about, what our goals are, and there’s no question our goal is a Sutherland Cup this year,” Bielby said. “We have a lot of teaching to do and that is the end goal and we believe we can be there and be the last one standing.”
Bielby, who added the GM duties this summer after long time general manager Frank Girhiny retired, is adamant the only way to succeed is to shoot for the stars.
“I think it’s very important. You’re dealing with competitive young men. These guys work every day to get better at their craft and if you’re going to tell them we’re striving for something less than what they want, it’s going to be tough to get that tribe moving,” he said. “The message was clear right from the beginning so that when they see my body language after a loss, they understand where it comes from.”
Bieby wants to see more of his charges in action before he feels comfortable commenting on the identity of this season’s squad.
“We’re going to look and see a lot over the next several weeks and even months,” he said. “Having said that, we know we have a lot of high character in that room, we have a lot of guys who want to learn to play the game the right way and we have a lot of guys full of energy. There is no lack of work happening on the ice, and as a coaches, we can take comfort the guys are going to show up to work every day.”
In goal, the Falcons have replaced Aiden Berry (Brantford 99ers) and Stephen Toltl (Stouffville Spirit) with a pair of promising backstops, Grimsby native and Niagara IceDogs U18 draft selection Hayden Jeffery and Tennessee native Cal Gardner, who played last season for the Nashville Predators U16 AAA squad.
“We’re going to start with two young goaltenders (2006) and are very confident with both young men,” Bielby said. “Hayden, in particular, has had an incredible camp.”
On defence, the Falcons lost key stalwarts Jonah Boria (Brock), Jordan Schanbacher (Alberta Junior Hockey League) and Lucas Tuin (Georgetown Raiders).
“We were spoiled with guys like Boria and Schanbacher,” Bielby said. “We’ve had some turnover on the back end but Cal Reesor and Colin Ewing love to defend and do their best to keeps pucks out of the net. They are both part of our leadership group as well as assistant captains. They’ll calm the young guys down and show them the right way and act as an assistant coach on the back end.”
Newcomers on defence include: Niagara Falls native Trent Vaillancourt, who was selected by the Mississauga Steelheads in the ninth round in 2023; Jordan Marconi, a 6-foot-4 St. Catharines native; Hank Attard, a Markham native who was a Hamilton Bulldogs draft selection in 2022; Kingston draft pick William Moore; and, St. Catharines product Mitch Dmytrow. As well, versatile Owen Simpson will see action on both the blueline and at forward.
Depth up front took a hit with the loss of Parker Forlin, Cam Lowe and Chris Read to the Niagara Falls Canucks of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, but Bielby likes what he sees from several of the newcomers.
“We’ve got some young guys coming in who are used to producing and we’re challenging them to translate that to this league and I see no reason why it can’t,” he said. “They’re used to scoring and making plays and we’re going to continue to push them to do that here.”
Former Thorold Blackhawk Caleb Thompson is back after two seasons in the OJHL with Cobourg and will wear the captain’s C and centre the first line.
“Caleb is a heck of a hockey player and will be elite in this league and No. 1 centre and drive our forward group,” Bielby said.
Thompson will be supported by Matthew Hlacar, who collected 24 goals in 32 games for the Niagara North Stars U18 AAA squad last season, along with Dallys Hibbert, who had 29 points in 33 games for the Markham Waxers AAA last year.
St. Catharines native Noah Read is expected to centre the second line while Owen King, a Cambridge native who played with the Oakville Rangers U18 AAA last season, has been impressive.
Zach Mizzi, Cal Petrovsky and Michael Colavecchia all return from last year’s squad and will provide depth and experience.
The Falcons host the Corvairs Friday at 7 p.m. to kick off the season before travelling to Fort Erie Saturday for a showdown with the Meteors.
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