By Josh Howald
Gatlin Burt returns to the crease as one of Kincardine's key players. GM Doug Kennedy has stockpiled some serious talent for the 2012-13 edition of the Kincardine Bulldogs, but would still like to add another defenceman to play in front of Burt. (Independent file photo/Richard Lawson)
What could be a very strong Carruthers Nicol Insurance Kincardine Bulldogs team will take the ice at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night for the home opener against the Mitchell Hawks. Fans will get a second chance to get a look at this year’s team on Sunday, as the Goderich Sailors will visit the Davidson Centre for a 4 p.m. game.
On paper, the ‘Dogs easily have a better team than last season. Head coach Jeff Alcombrack has more skill, and more depth, to work with this season. His troops were 18-15-3 last year, good for a fifth place regular season finish before being knocked out of the playoffs by the Wingham Ironmen.
“I know we have a stronger team than last season,” said Alcombrack Monday morning, “but we can’t rely on (Brett) Catto and (Cody) Britton to score every goal and we can’t expect Gatlin Burt to make 35 saves every night.”
Catto, a Kincardine Minor Hockey Association product who spent the last four seasons playing in the OHL and the Midwestern Junior B Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, was named captain of the ‘Dogs and will certainly lead the charge. You’ll see him on the ice with Britton much of the time. Britton was another big pick-up – a proven scorer from the Tier II Junior A Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League. Gatlin Burt can be the league’s best goaltender, and Garrett Simmons (10-17-27), who was acquired last year in a trade with Hanover, is likely the top offensive defenceman in the Western League.
Kincardine’s roster isn’t only skilled, but includes more local players than in any recent year. Gerrit Satosek, Mitch Dickson and defenceman Dallas Perkins all make the jump from minor hockey after winning a midget OMHA title last season. All three were also members of the OFSAA championship winning Kincardine District Secondary School team, as was gritty forward Paul Lamont.
“And we have some guys who have been playing junior for two or three years now,” said Alcombrack, “and it’s time for them to step up and play a bigger role.”
Among the returning players are Kincardine’s D Josh McDonald, D Hayden Allen, F Shawn Stewart (8-9-17), Lucknow forwards Joel Alton (10-13-23), brothers Tanner and Chad Simpson and Jamie Miller (14-11-25), forwards Alex Legrand (10-4-14) and Jared Colling (13-15-28), from Tiverton and Ripley, respectively. Others back from last season include Justin Ainslie (Wiarton), Mike Smailes (Dobbinton), Colin Whitfield (Blyth), forward Dave Mercer (Port Elgin) and goaltender Justin Hammond (Chesley).
The roster will change at some point, possibly even before Saturday night. General Manager Doug Kennedy has been looking to acquire another defenceman, while every team in the Western League is watching tryouts at the Junior A and B levels.
“We have a lot of people in this area who really support us, and we want to put the best team we possibly can dress on the ice every night,” said Alcombrack, who grew increasingly frustrated with his team’s lack of discipline as the season wore on last year.
Kincardine was the most penalized team in the league last season, with many of those 1164 minutes coming from misconducts.
“That will change,” said the coach. “If guys don’t follow through with playing smart, they better dress warm because they won’t get back on the ice.”
That’s just one of the things Alcombrack will be going through with his team this week. The Bulldogs skate Wednesday and Friday this week. One skate will be a hard one, while the other will break down the team’s systems for the players, as well as to address the team’s goals and what is expected of the players on, and off, the ice this year.
Certainly more will be expected than was shown at an exhibition tournament in Alliston over the weekend. The Bulldogs did not play well, said both Alcombrack and Kennedy.
“I’m just happy the exhibition games are over,” he said. “I’m ready to get back at it. We want to get two big wins this weekend and start the year on a good note.”
The Western Junior C regular season will actually begin Friday night, with two games kicking off the season. Mount Forest will be in Wingham to face the Ironmen at 7:30 p.m., while Hanover and Walkerton will waste no time getting reacquainted with an 8:30 p.m. game in Walkerton. Kincardine’s home opener is one of two Saturday games, the other taking place in Mount Forest between the Pats and the Goderich Sailors.