By Rob J. Ross
AYLMER, Ont. - The return to junior hockey was a long one for the Aylmer Spitfires.
Winners of only four of 39 games last season in the Provincial Junior Hockey League, the Spitfires finished ninth of in the nine team Yeck Division.
After the COVID pandemic wiped out the 2020-21 season, the Spitfires took the 2021-22 season off. The junior team returned with several changes including in management and the coaching staff.
"Year one was a steep learning curve for a lot of people, from management to coaching staff. We had lots of new players, new coaches and executives," said Vance Stark, Spitfires' co-GM. "It wasn't easy. It's hard when you're not winning,"
The club definitely aims to be more competitive this season, but returning to a competitive team doesn't happen over night.
"It's never easy to lose the majority of your games. But it's a process and it'll take some time," Stark said. "We knew it wouldn't be one year and we're back at the top. It'll take a couple years to get established again. Not to say we knew that we were going to struggle. Everybody wants to think we can be a competitive team, but reality does set in that says we have to work to do."
Mike Woolley is the new head coach, switching roles with Dylan Thomas, last year's head coach, who remains as an assistant, along with Derek Folkard.
"We have a core group that stayed with us from last year," Stark said. "We realize that some kids want to move on to different places, but it was important to us to keep a few kids from last year and build off that."
Defenceman Tyler Taplay returns and is Spitfires' new captain.
"We saw leadership skills in Tyler," Stark said. "He's a great individual. He's really looking to lead the team."
Taplay is also affiliating with the St. Thomas Stars.
"We're looking forward for him to excel as a player and taking those skills he's learning at the junior B level and bringing those back to us," Stark said.
Forwards Ryder Stokley and Carson Appleford and defenceman Garrett Hoornick, will be team alternate captain.
Stokley who played last season as a 16-year old and Appleford, are playing for their hometown team.
Hoornick, a 19-year old defenceman from Dorchester, led the Spitfires' defence in scoring last season, with three goals and six assists.
Goalie Riley Legacy, of St. Thomas is back., with overage defenceman Ethan Whitmore coming over from the Dorchester Dolphins.
Other local players include 18-year old forward Jack Faulds of Aylmer, 18-year old forward Brandon Ostrander from Springfield, Theoren Morrison and Hudson Andrews from St. Thomas and forwards Cole Hardie and Owen Bachert, hailing from Dorchester.
Living a long way from home is
defenceman Dean Carey, an 18-year old defenceman from Petawawa.
Aylmer hasn't won a playoff series since 2017, when the team advanced to the division final before losing to Dorchester.
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