By: Daniel Vazzoler
It would be fair to call the 2021-22 season for the Carleton Place Canadians an eventful campaign throughout the organization.
It marked the first year for the franchise under the new ownership of Brent Sullivan, with new faces sprinkled in throughout the groups. The season saw its share of struggles with COVID and injuries affecting things on and off the ice.
The campaign also brought its share of hope and optimism as well. After a reshaping of the roster that saw prominent players of previous season get moved out at the Jr A level, the youthful group showed the potential they have down the stretch when presented the opportunity.
The Jr B group had a surprisingly successful season, winning their division before going on a deep playoff run as one of the youngest teams in the EOJHL. That team success led to individual opportunities at the Jr A level for some of the players as well, again showing the bright future within the Canadians group.
At the U18 level, the group developed as the season wore on. Also one of the younger teams in the league, a slow start may have hampered their playoff hopes but a strong performance in the play-in round allowed for some post-season action for the CPC U18 team.
The Canadians underwent a transition year this season, both on and off the ice. With Sullivan coming into the fold as the new owner and coach of the team, he looked to put his stamp on the team this season.
The start of the year didn’t go as hoped, and a shake-up was required.
A mid-November trade between the Canadians and the Brockville Braves sent things in motion. Caleb Kean and Ryan Bonfield were traded for Jackson Hay, Marco Iozzo and Liam Goreski as a sign of moving to a younger group while keeping that competitive edge.
“It was important for everyone to recognize the need for a transition year,” Sullivan said. “It’s tough in the moment to accept it but, in the long run, it’ll pay off. We could have done it earlier [but] we tried to hand on as long as we could. Ultimately, I think it will be the best for this franchise moving forward.”
The move sparked a bit of momentum but wasn’t enough to think about a playoff run. In the end, two more big pieces were sent out with Jake Code going to the Ottawa Jr Senators and Kerfalla Toure getting traded to the Hawkesbury Hawks.
Those moves opened up room in the line-up for those younger players, which will provide important experience for those returning to the Jr A group next season.
“It put guys in situations they hadn’t been in before [at this level]. There’s a lot of guys up and down the list that were thrown in the fire and I think it’ll pay off in the long run,” Sullivan expressed.
Players like Cole Bowditch and Matteo Disipio saw their play rise when given the chance to play a larger role than they had before. Bowditch cemented himself as a top-6 defenceman on the team as the youngest D on the roster and Disipio proved to be a scoring threat night-in and night-out after being acquired in the Toure trade.
“A lot of these guys were first-year junior players,” Sullivan stated. “I truly believe Brandon Walker and Jackson Hay can be two of the best defencemen in the league [next year]. Derek Hamilton is one of the most complete players in the league. Regardless of his size, his tenacity, his ability to get up and down the ice, his ability to play a 200-foot game and in all situations.
“Matteo Disipio, I think, is one of the best steals. I remember saying he had the opportunity to produce right away and he ended up putting up over a point-per game.”
Disipio ended up being one of the leading scorers for the Canadians this season, putting up 31 points in his 28 games with Carleton Place. Bill Gourgon led the way offensively with 37 points in 38 games. In goal, Joe Chambers saw the bulk of the action and got 14 wins in his 39 games played and tallied two shut-outs during the season.
For the group returning next season, the challenges the players faced can certainly be a helping factor in terms of development and growth.
Following the season, the Canadians announced that two of our 20-year olds in Devin Pimm and Isaac Pascoal would be attending RMC next season to continue their hockey careers.
The season for the Carleton Place Jr Canadians was, by nearly every account, a great success.
The group finished atop the Richardson Division, second in the EOJHL regular season standings and also made it to the second round of the playoffs.
The team success is merely part of the picture when it comes to the Jr B group, however. For the Canadians, the biggest success came with the development of the players and the opportunities they had this season.
“Expectations were exceeded, have to credit the players and the staff for that,” said Sullivan. “I remember having conversations with some guys in training camp being like, ‘Listen, you could probably make our team today but, I’d rather you go eat up a ton of minutes down there.’ As the year went on, Norm (Racine) and I were chatting about how this is incredible experience for a program that uses [Jr B] as a development opportunity.”
Those exceeded expectations, along with the injuries and players out of the lineup at the Jr A level, allowed a good chunk of the Jr B players an opportunity to play Jr A games this season. Sullivan said those Jr B players are going to have a good chance to be relied upon in key situations next season at the Jr A level because of the experience they gained at the Jr B level.
“I’m incredibly proud, and those guys will get rewarded,” Sullivan expressed. “Our Jr B program is ran different than a lot of others for this exact reason.”
The top six scorers at the Jr B level all saw some action on the Jr A squad this season. Sean Ireland led the team in scoring with 46 points in 36 games and J.J. Swyer’s 42 points in 35 games ranked him third in the EOJHL rookie scoring race. Jackson Pundyk held the reins for most of the regular season in goal, but the efforts of 20-year-old Bradley Mitchell were relied upon in the playoffs – helping get the series win against Athens and starting the series against Perth.
The regular season record of the U18 group isn’t the focus of the Canadians organization. As the season developed, so to did the players. Despite ending the season near the bottom of the standings, the Canadians won their single-elimination games to get into the playoffs before running into the Nepean Raiders U18 team – a team that earned the bronze medal at provincials.
“The goal [of the 2021 CCHL Draft] was to get a lot of really good character people in here, led by Caton Ryan. He’s a fantastic kid and a fantastic competitor,” said Sullivan. “A lot of people may look at the wins and losses as success but, the way our program is built, two of our top 16-year-olds make Jr B. They lost their top ’05 in Oliver Bonk to the OHL and they didn’t have any ‘04’s, they all played Jr B.
“So, it’s essentially built with 15-year-olds, free-agent 16-year-olds and a few other 16-year-olds. The reality is, this program is created for these guys to get reps, these guys to get integrated into a AAA league. We run our program pretty high-end here. We give a lot of development opportunity, they do team video, work out twice a week, practice three times a week, play twice a week. We want to treat them well and it paid off at the end of the year to get some success.”
Similar to the Jr B players development and getting called up, the U18 squad had their share of players playing at higher levels throughout the season – namely the two players drafted in the 2022 OHL Draft.
Ryan had a handful of games at the Jr A level this season and his campaign led him to be a fifth-round selection by the Ottawa 67’s. Thomas Dickey had spells on the Jr B team during the regular season and joined them for the playoff run once the U18 season came to an end. He was selected by the Hamilton Bulldogs in the 14th round of the OHL Draft.
All things point to the upcoming season being a more competitive one for Carleton Place. After a training camp he said wasn’t as competitive as he would have liked, Sullivan said that shouldn’t be the case this summer.
Between the commitments the team has made to players outside of the organization, plus the talent pool at the levels below, Sullivan and his coaching staff will have some tough decisions to make when piecing the roster together for the upcoming season. That internal battle for roster spots should make for a stronger team, as well as the development opportunities the players had this season.
Time will tell what the 2022-23 season will have in store for all three levels of the Canadians organization, but the future is definitely bright for the franchise.