By: Daniel Vazzoler
It’s safe to say the 2021-22 season hasn’t gone the way many had expected it would for the Carleton Place Canadians.
From the month-long break going on to their record sitting around the .500-mark, the less-than-ideal start to the season has forced head coach and GM Brent Sullivan to make a shift to focus more on next year. The moves he made prior to Monday’s trade deadline is an indication of what he’s looking to do heading into the 2022-23 season.
After moving two core pieces earlier in the year by sending Caleb Kean and Ryan Bonfield to the Brockville Braves back in November, the Canadians traded away to more 20-year-olds in Jake Code and Kerfalla Toure.
Code will be a member of the Ottawa Jr Senators, with a pair of ’03 players coming to Carleton Place in return – forward Mark MacPhee and defenceman Aidan Cooper. According to Sullivan, MacPhee’s style of play allows him to come in as a replacement for Toure up front.
“He’s a big, heavy forward,” Sullivan said about MacPhee. “Great release, competitive, can play on the power play and penalty kill, plus he can play in the middle. So there’s a lot of flexibility there.”
In 24 games this season, MacPhee scored seven goals and 15 points with the Jr Senators and has totalled 15 goals and 30 points in 77 career CCHL games between this season and his rookie season back in 2019-20 as a 16-year-old.
By adding Cooper, the Canadians are bringing in someone who, Sullivan says, can provide some offence from the back-end – a trait that has been missing in Carleton Place this year. Cooper has yet to really show his offensive upside with two goals and two assists in 16 games this season with Ottawa. However, playing U18 as a 16-year-old defenceman for OHA, Cooper had 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 44 games.
“He gets up in the play well and can be a guy that can help our transition and should be a power play guy too,” Sullivan said.
For Toure, he and his brother, Djibril, are heading to the Hawkesbury Hawks. Matteo Disipio (’03), who was moved from the Rockland Nationals to the Hawks in an earlier trade on Monday, and Loic Prud’homme (’04) come back the other way from Hawkesbury.
Disipio had an impressive season in U18 with the Brockville Braves back in 2019-20 when he tallied 30 goals and 52 points in 42 games, leading him to be a 1st-round pick by the Ottawa 67’s in the 2020 U18 OHL Draft.
“There’s a high, high ceiling with this kid. Getting a right shot was important for me,” Sullivan expressed, with holes in the top-six forward group opening up on the right wing as Bonfield and Code are no longer in Carleton Place. “Real good potential for him to be an offensive contributor right from the get-go. He can be a power play guy and has really good speed.”
Prud’homme is the only part of Monday’s deadline work that will take some time before he comes to Carleton Place. Currently at the Ulysse Prep Academy for the remainder of the season, Prud’homme was a part of the trade discussions right from the start, according to Sullivan.
“He’s big, heavy left-shot (forward) who skates really well,” he explained. “Kind of think of Toure, in terms of his physicality, speed and puck possession. I’d say he’s going to be move of an energy guy, with the ability to produce but more of guy with speed who will hound pucks. He’ll help with that style of play in our small rink in being able to close on guys.”
For Sullivan, the Kean-Bonfield trade earlier in the season set things in motion for this day to happen. The trade then was more of a change of culture and change of style for the Canadians in an effort to try and make a change to keep the Canadians in the hunt of the top half of the standings. But with the Canadians going younger as well in that trade, Sullivan opened the door to the other 20-year-olds about moving them if they desired.
“I was a junior player at one point, I was a deadline move my 20-year-old. I know the pressure you can sometimes feel when you think your window is closing,” Sullivan expressed. “I wanted to respect these guys because, I knew in taking over this team, there would be a transition year. […] It started when we moved Kean and Bonfield, but it became concrete when they (Code and Toure) came to me last week and said it’s time to go.”
In trading Code and Toure, the Canadians are losing a pair of established leaders from the locker room, but their impact on the group should be on that is felt even though they are no longer with the group.
Even leading up to the moment where Code asked for a trade, Sullivan said Code was worrying more about those around him than himself.
“It was always about his billets, his billet brothers, his teammates, his past teammates. It was never about ‘what’s best for Jake Code’ and even up to the final hour he was concerned about what I was going to get for him,” he reminisced. “I basically said to him ‘Don’t worry about me, we’re never going to be better off without Jake Code’ but my job was to replace him in a different way.
“We’re never going to be able to replace Jake Code, more so from a human standpoint. He’s one of the most mature young men I’ve ever coached. His impact will be felt, we’re all going to be sad to not have him there.”
With Toure, his impact and leadership was more visible on the ice and during the game in his time with the Canadians.
“He was an example-setter every single time. You want to see a guy compete; this is who you play like. You want to see a guy take care of his body; this is who it is. You want to see a guy show up to camp in incredible shape; this is who you should follow,” Sullivan said.
“Both of those guys came into this year with high expectations, we all did, and I take full responsibility for us not achieving that,” expressed Sullivan. “I know they wear that hard, I wear it hard to. In chatting with both of them, we wish that we didn’t have to do this.”
The Canadians added to the group of 03’s this week as defenceman Braeden Donnelly joins the Canadians after his trade from the Calgary Canucks of the AJHL.
“He’s real hard-nosed, a competitive kid who comes from St. Andrew’s College, really highly regarded program,” Sullivan said. “Plays more of a defence-first style and skates well.”
Meanwhile, as the focus shifts from this season more to next, an opportunity lies ahead for a young group for the Canadians to try and see what can be accomplished in the remaining months of the 2021-22 season.
“This puts a real focus on the ‘03s, which will be 19 years old next year and in their second last year of junior. I think what’s going to be a focus is getting these guys experience this year and having them leaned on in key situations,” said Sullivan. “What I really noticed this year is the year off of competitive hockey last year, and the year off from pressure-cooking situations of the play-offs the year before, regardless of if they were over-agers and 2001 birth-years, a lot of those guys hadn’t really been tested yet.
“You think about the impact last year had, a lot of our 19-year-olds right now came into this year having not played an actual season of Jr A hockey,” he continued. “What I want to do with our ‘03s is, I’m going to hand them the ball. With the compliment of the ‘02s and with a couple of ‘04s, there should be a lot of continuity moving forward. There’s a lot of good pieces here that should be around next year and I want them to play together, I want them to get used to each other, I want to create a tighter knit group.”
The expectation for the CCHL is that a 55-game season will be completed when play is allowed to resume, meaning the Canadians will have 28 games left in the 2021-22 season. That creates plenty of time for the players to build experience, while Sullivan says he hopes to still remain a significant part of the CCHL play-off picture.
“There’s no denying there’s going to be some tough times this year but I actually think we’re still competitive,” he said. “My goal every single night as a competitor, I want to win every single game. I’m not going to be naïve, it’s going to be different, but I’m going to have our guys prepped every single day to compete and try to win every single night and we’ll see what happens.”