By: Daniel Vazzoler
The Carleton Place Canadians held their main camp this past weekend in preparation for the 2023-24 CCHL season that is now just two months away.
July’s camp provided a chance for head coach Brent Sullivan to re-establish the culture and expectations of the organization for the returning players, as well as setting the standards for the new players for the first time.
“I think it was important for us to do it now because I don’t want them to arrive in August surprised,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to have to continue to try and set that bar. Overall, I was pleased with how the guys arrived (at camp).”
Last season, the coaching staff had to deliver the message to nearly the entire roster with only a handful of returning players from the 2021-22 season coming to camp in July 2022. This season, that was not the case.
Carleton Place comes into the 2023-24 season with the most returning players, looking to build on a season that ended in a first-round play-off exit.
“Camp was extremely competitive and, with a lot of guys returning, this is where we set the tone for not just the Jr A team but also the Jr B team,” said Will Soloway, one of those returning players.
“Everybody looked good, they were battling and it shows people have been training,” returning player Bill Gourgon said. “It feels like the season is starting next week with the competitiveness that was out there this weekend.”
The players were put through a litany of off-ice testing on Friday with strength coach Zach Yantha before Sullivan had his first chance to run a practice with each of the two teams, mixing the Jr A and Jr B players within Team Blue and Team Yellow.
Following the practice, the Canadians fans had their first chance to see the teams in action with a scrimmage Saturday afternoon. The crowd filled in the arena to watch the game between the two teams, which saw Team Yellow come away victorious.
The coaches opted to set up the teams with some line combinations that could be in play come the start of the regular season. One that looked very strong was the trio of Soloway, Mathieu Fehr and new-comer Tommy Enrietto. The three were a line together at Lake Forest Academy in 2021-22 and the year apart did nothing to disrupt their chemistry.
The three combined to be the top-scoring line in U.S. prep school the year they were together at LFA. Saturday and Sunday showcased the way their respective strengths worked together and set the expectations high for what they can accomplish come the regular season.
“I love Tommy, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met,” Soloway expressed on the line being reunited.
“It’s kind of funny how things come full circle,” Sullivan reminisced. “All of this stems from how hard we recruited Will Soloway. We go after Will and then we see how good Matt Fehr is as a player, then you start to realize how good Enrietto is and then ‘wow, Mason Culley is a really good player, (Ian) Vandenberg’s a good goalie.’”
“Then you throw in Cole Mathews into the mix, we’re a bit of an LFA party with those six guys, but it was easy to circle the guys I wanted because I’ve seen these guys play,” continued Sullivan. “The way LFA runs their program helps because I know what kind of kids I’m going to get.”
Team Blue featured what could be the top line for the Canadians with Gourgon playing alongside Jace Benvie and Caton Ryan. The three have a combination of feistiness, speed and skill that can make them tough to handle for other teams.
“Forever, CP has been known as a hard-working team and that’s always been the culture here,” Gourgon said. “When they come to camp, they try to fit in that way and that’s why it sometimes can get chippy out there but it’s all from a good spot and we’re going to be buddies at the end of the day. When we out for camp, it was time to work and that’s what we did.”
Last year’s Canadians team was a young group with the idea of building upon the experience of the season to prepare for this upcoming campaign. Players like Ryan, Dylan Pollock, Carter Pilon and other youngsters from last season will see their roles increased this year thanks to the experience and growth from year-to-year they showed at camp.
“It’s all about that experience,” Ryan said. “Knowing how long a season can get and trying to be fresh every game. Whether it’s what we do post-game or pre-game, it’s just staying on the ball on all the stuff outside the rink.”
“Every body needed to take a step and it was evident the majority did,” stated Sullivan. “There’s no more dipping your toes, everyone got their opportunity last year.”
The individuals may have had their opportunities last season but things are shaping up for the Canadians to have their opportunity this season at a championship. Along with bringing back the most players, Carleton Place is featuring a lot of local talent with 14 players playing their minor hockey in Hockey Eastern Ontario – with 10 players coming from the HEO U18 league.
With teams around the league looking like they are taking steps back, the Canadians taking the steps forward could end up putting them leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
“This year we’re extremely deep so, within the team, we’re going to be fighting for spots, which is great and going to be competitive,” Soloway said. “It’s just going to push us more and more to be the best we can be.”
“We had a talk after last season and we’re going to go for it this year,” added Gourgon. “I think we’ve got the group to do it. We have a lot of strong players (coming in) like Culley, Benvie and that Mathews kid. I think we’re looking really strong right now and we’ll see how the start of the season goes.”
Camp ended with a team BBQ with the captain and assistant captains named for the season. Soloway received the ‘C’ while Sullivan announced Ryan, Aidan Cooper and Owen Brady as the assistants.
“We are going to have a very big leadership group this year. You add guys like Bill Gourgon, Jace Benvie, Loic Prud’homme, Noah Kinloch-Varga, Carter Pilon, all these guys that are crucial to the success here,” added Sullivan.
The captains weren’t the only reveal at the end of camp as the players got a sneak peak at something exciting coming for the Canadians. Be sure to keep an eye out on our social media pages before the start of the season to find out the exciting news.