Port Stanley aims to rebound from first non playoff year in the PJHL
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
By Rob J. Ross
ST. THOMAS - It is early in training camp, but Port Stanley Sailors' GM and head coach Dale Howard already has the club's theme for the upcoming Provincial Junior Hockey League season.
"Fore-check, back-check, pay cheque. That's our theme this year. The pay cheque is the win," said Howard, at the Lakers' first official practice Saturday at the Thornton Community Centre. "We hope to achieve a good confident team that plays a certain way of hockey."
Last season was not what Howard wanted to see, missing the playoffs with a 4-32-0-4 record.
"A very bad year last year," said Howard. "It was the worst year I've ever had in 35 years of coaching hockey. It was the toughest year I've ever had."
Howard, officially the bench boss this season, is determined to change the atmosphere in the dressing room and around the team.
Port Stanley will welcome players who want to be a Sailor. Only seven players are returning, including assistant captains Lane Westgate and Eric Wells. Many late season trades cleared house opening roster spots for this campaign.
"The team is still not picked. It's just the beginning. We had them skating. I'm looking for a strong fore-check, a 200-foot game," said Howard. "We want kids who want to play here, who have good character. We want practices well planned and well attended. We'll teach and we're not going to stop teaching. There is a lot to teach as there are a lot of young kids. We are a young team, mostly 17-year olds."
The Sailors have signed 17-year old forward Lucas Glanville, from St. Thomas.
Joining Howard on the bench will be assistant coaches Tyler Kearns and Kaiden Beer. Kearns won a Schmalz Cup with the Picton Pirates in 2013 and also skated for the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, during their 2011 run to the Dudley Hewitt Cup.
"We're trying to surround ourselves with winners. We have kids who want to play here, so now we have the opportunity to build on that," said Howard. "We have to play as a team and everybody do their job.'
Howard understands growing pains will come with a younger team.
"We want to be the team that every team in the league says, 'we don't want to play those guys. They've come a long ways'," explains Howard. "I'm not worried about wins and losses in the first month or two. It's a matter of getting everything in place and playing the style of hockey we need to be successful. Then by the time we reach the playoffs, no one wants to play us because we have improved that much."
Port Stanley opened the exhibition schedule, falling 3-0 at Hespeler, on August 16th.
"I thought we played a heck of a game for a bunch of kids who never played together."
The Sailors aim to build a core that leads to a championship contending team over the next few seasons.
Entering their 11th season, the Sailors have only won two playoff rounds, both following their two best regular seasons, third place in 2013 (22-13-2) and fourth (25-13-2) in 2014. Last year was the first without playoffs.
"We're not a lousy team. We just had a lousy year," said Howard. "We can win with kids who want to be here."
All eight teams in the Yeck Division qualify for the playoffs, after the Lambeth Lancers folded.
The Sailors open their PJHL schedule at Exeter, September 13th. Their home opener is the next night, against Lucan, with plans that include a showcase of NHL trophies.