By: Daniel Vazzoler
March 6, 2020, the day the Carleton Place Canadians last played a competitive game.
Carleton Place was riding high thanks to a top-ranked 49-7-4-2 regular season, getting prepared for a long playoff run. But it was a playoff run that never got started because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020-21 crew never had a chance to fulfill what the year previous could have been.
Only four players remain from the ’19-20 group and – from all accounts – Ryan Bonfield, Jake Code, Caleb Kean and Kerfalla Touré are setting the standard of what training camp will be like for their final season in Carleton Place.
“These had the taste a couple of years ago of a pretty darn good team in ’19-20,” Canadians coach Brent Sullivan said, when talking about those four players. “The intensity these guys are bringing, even just in conversations, is pretty exciting.”
“We had a solid group and it was obviously a disappointing end to a great year,” Code said. “I think it just adds fuel to the fire and makes you hungry to win.”
It was only conversations for the longest time but, with training camp officially beginning on Tuesday, the returning players and new commits are back in town to get prepared for the upcoming season.
“We’re pumped, we’ve had two years kind of taken from us, (so) we’re really hungry to get what we want,” Bonfield said. “We’re going to work our butts off all year, we’re going to do what we need to do and – speaking for myself but also on behalf of the team – we’re ready for the year.”
With missing out on what was expected to be a deep playoff run and the 2020-21 season being just a series of developmental scrimmages, Touré said he feels the group of four “ruined” a major part of their junior career.
“We lost two years where we thought we were going to win the championships, that we’d be able to go back-to-back-to-back. So, now that there isn’t any of it, we’ve got one shot. We can’t mess it up,” he added.
The last two years have been without playoff hockey in Carleton Place for the first time since the 2009-10 season so the entire team – along with nearly the entire rest of the CCHL – have no playoff experience.
“We haven’t played a playoff game, we’re still rookies to that aspect of the game,” Kean said. “I’m hungry to get going, we want to play playoff games and have a good season. It’s my last year here, so there’s a lot to prove.”
Based on what Sullivan says he believes in this team he’s assembled so far, Kean and the rest of the group shouldn’t be playoff rookies come March.
“Our talent up front is incredibly deep. I think our older guys are really going to be the ones to steer the bus here,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got a lot of real good pieces and I’m looking forward to a quick start here.”
Kerfalla isn’t the only Touré on the Canadians this season, as he made the trip from Montreal to Carleton Place with his brother, Djibril.
“It’s nice to have people you know from back home (on the team), especially when you’re alone and away from the parents. It’s hard for new kids coming in, so I’m glad that he’s going to be able to come in with me,” the elder Touré said.
Djibril isn’t here solely because of his brother, with Sullivan going as far as to say he was the best player on the ice during the development camp back in August.
“I made him earn (his spot), I made him come to tryout camp like everyone else and I want him to assert himself. And, man, did he ever. He was arguably the best player at camp. Right away (you noticed) his presence, his confidence, his skating ability. Then off the ice, you’re bringing in somebody from an incredible family and they come with good intangibles and their character is through the roof.
“I’m going to lean on Kerf as an ’01, but I’m already going to lean on his brother even with him being an ’03,” Sullivan added.
Training camp begins on Tuesday, but is closed to the public. The first pre-season game for the Canadians is on Sept. 12 at 3 p.m. in Carleton Place against the Smiths Falls Bears. Ticket information for the game will come at a later date.