Panthers focusing on defence
The Pelham Panthers feel their roster will be greater than the sum of its parts.
The Panthers begin the 2022/23 Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season with hopes of competing thanks to a mix of newcomers along with a solid nucleus of players returning from last season.
“It’s always early to tell but I think our identity will be a very hard-working team with an emphasis on team,” Panthers owner/general manager Tim Toffolo said. “We will be a tough team to play against day in and day out and that will help put us to where we need to be.
“We have a reasonable nucleus returning and we’ve managed to fill in with some guys we think are really good, solid individual players.”
Toffolo has been pleasantly surprised how quickly the roster has come together.
“The nice thing with what we have here is with the returning guys and the guys we have added in, they are a really close group,” he said. “That’s been a positive. It’s often hard to find a bunch of guys who gel right away, these guys seem to have. I think it’s because of the character we have in the room and the character we added in. It’s all pretty top notch.”
The Panthers return forwards Cameron Savoie, Lucas Jasmins, Luca Marandola and Dawson Abrahams while Jason Gee, Brydan Gibbs and Drew Clark are back on defence.
Newcomers include forwards Jordan Adams of Georgetown and Zachary Cafaro of Nobelton, who are both attending Brock, Robbie Denham from the Niagara River Hawks, Xavier Fazzari of Ancaster, Connor Clark of Waterdown, local product Luke Breadner and 16-year-old Nolan Shaw.
Pelham also added defencemen Damon Beattie of Mississauga, who played last season in Brantford, and former Welland Junior Canadian Jacob Goffredo.
The Panthers also added ex-Welland backstop Keegan Jackson and former River Hawk goaltender Cameron Johnston.
Pelham picked up Jackson and Goffredo in a deal for forward Cody Miskolczi in the off-season.
“When it came up he (Jackson) was available we were really excited,” Toffolo said. “The early part of the season he was close to the No. 1 goalie in our loop, he was that good.”
Toffolo feels the club will be a defence-first squad under new coach Bryan Kelly.
“We’ll be a hard-working, defensive-minded team with Kells. If anyone remembers him, he’s a very good tactical coach,” he said.
Toffolo isn’t sure where the Panthers will slot in compared to other teams.
“Obviously, the next few weeks are really important to see where we’re at and where everyone else is at and if we have to tinker here or there,” he said. “You really do have the time. We have to take a good look at the first three weeks or month to see where we are.
“I’m pretty satisfied where we are and we’ll just continue to strive to get better.”
The Panthers finished in seventh place with 14 wins last season.
“Anybody when they start the season they have a goal in mind to win as many games as you can and get as far as you can in the playoffs,” he said.
The Panthers open Saturday in Caledonia and then host Niagara Falls Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
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