When Andrew Richard of the Ayr Centennials beat goaltender Josh Heer of the Wellesley Applejacks at 18:01 of the first overtime period back on Mar. 1, the Game 5 victory sealed the fate of the Jacks for another year, as they were ousted from the Sothern Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs.
The finish was a frustrating one for players and management alike, as they had hoped to not only avoid a repeat of last year’s opening-round five-game defeat (also at the hand of the Centennials), but advance to the second round for the first time in more than four years.It was not to be, however, which has forced management back to the drawing board for the 2012-2013 season a little earlier than they had hoped.
“We’ve talked to a lot of players for next year, and there are a few that we’re really interested in,” said Jacks head coach and general manager Kevin Fitzpatrick earlier this week. He said that the recruitment process was an ongoing on, and that they had targeted a handful of players that they are pursuing for next season.
In the Junior hockey ranks, the process of planning for “next season” is a perennial one, with the uncertainty surrounding call-ups to more competitive leagues, players leaving for school or work, and the ever-present reality of age.
With 19 players on the current roster 20 years of age or older in 2012, next year’s team will have a much different look than the squad that left the ice a month ago.
Each team is only permitted four over-age players, and while they carried two this past year, Fitzpatrick said they will certainly fill all four positions for the upcoming season – though he gave no indication of who those players might be.
Another source of uncertainty is the proposed merger of the Junior D and Junior C leagues, and Fitzpatrick is on that merger committee. He said they plan to meet a couple of times in April, and that there are about 25 points that need to be worked out, with league alignment being the biggest issue, but the list also includes league rivalries and potential rivalries, transportation costs, and the scheduling of home games.
“There are still a lot of variables,” Fitzpatrick said.
The timing for training camp for next season still has to be finalized, as it hinges on the outcome of the merger discussions, but as always, Fitzpatrick said the Jacks will ice a competitive team that can hopefully build on some of their success earlier this season.