Brad Gerber was named coach and Justin Lebold given the big “C” this week.
General manager Bill Grebinski says Gerber was recommended as a good hire and he stood out in the interview process.
“He’s got great leadership, he’s coached hockey for numerous years. He played for the Wellesley Merchants, he’s local, just a really good ambassador to the game and to the community. And he understands hockey,” Grebinski said. “The synergy in the community is very high right now, when it was rumbling through that Brad’s the coach. We’re excited about that.”
Brock Gerber and Ted Jefferies will return as assistant coaches. Ryan Gerber will also join the team as an assistant coach. They’ve brought in four scouts for the summer to actively seek out players who would be a good fit for the team.
“That’s something we haven’t had in years. We’ve grown the organization, we’re reaching out now with the scouts, taking a look at the talent. We really want to put a real strong local flavour to the team this year. There’s a lot of good hockey talent coming up now and we want to make sure that we’re tuned into that,” Grebinski said.
He noted they were in the process of resigning their affiliation with the Elmira Sugar Kings, as they did last year. The affiliation saw players like Alex Uttley fill in the gaps when the Kings were missing players.
Familiar faces returning to the team include Sean McEwan, Matt Schieck, Cal Jefferies and Parker Wood. There will be nine players from last year’s team returning. They’re also losing a few to university and Junior B.
“We will enhance our team with some players that were injured last year and weren’t able to play. Now they’re back this year. That’ll give us a stronger core,” Grebinski said.
Lebold will be taking over captain duties as a fourth-year Applejack. He’s a local player who came through the Twin City Minor Hockey system and has played in Wellesley for his whole hockey career.
“He showed strong leadership last year. As you know last year was a bit of an up and down season for us. Justin stayed very true to his leadership and supporting the younger players, and he was a very strong mentor. So we felt that it was best to award him with the C this year,” Grebinski said.
Gerber will announce the assistant captains at a later date.
The scouts have a couple of key prospects they’re looking into for the team and Grebinski said they’re going to be putting a competitive team on the ice, rather than a rebuild team.
They started dry-land training on Wednesday, and they’ll hit the ice later this month before their main camp August 22-23. Any interested players are encouraged to reach out to the coaching staff.
“Part of that two-year plan was to build a stronger organization to attract more of the local players,” Grebinski said. “We’ve affiliated with the juvenile team, so any of the players that would be 18 are going to be available from our juvenile program. We’re also strongly affiliated with our midget program as well. What that does is we actually have people within the Applejacks, the scouts will be working with the coaching staff with these players and mentoring them and helping them to develop players for the Jacks.”
He says that’s something they hadn’t done in the past. They’ve also hired a goaltending coach, which they haven’t had in a few years.
There have been some positive changes this summer and he says they’re definitely on track with their two-year plan.
“We certainly want to be a solid junior hockey club and we’re on line for that. I think this year the foundation’s poured, and we feel very strongly we can get it framed and bricked this year,” Grebinski said. “And next year will probably be the definer. Brad’s goal this year is to win our division obviously, and I think we’re probably still two years away from that, but I’m not going to hold Brad back from anything.”
Gerber played Junior hockey in Tavistock and New Hamburg, winning an Ontario championship in Tavistock. After that he played senior hockey for the Wellesley Merchants for 12 years and then he got into coaching. He coached the Merchants for six years before they disbanded.
“Junior hockey’s always been a passion of mine. I’ve been watching this team from afar for a couple of years and I’ve always been interested in how they’ve been doing,” Gerber said.
He was approached by his nephew Brock to see if he wanted to get involved with the team and in what capacity. When he said he’d be interested in helping the coaching staff it was only a week later before he had the interview and was chosen as head coach.
“I’m looking forward to working with the coaching staff. I’ve got a great bunch to work with. It’s a great group. It should make my job a lot easier,” Gerber said.
He notes last year’s team was young and this year’s will be too. But, he’s hopeful they’ll make it to the playoffs. The ultimate goal would be to win the division but that’s going to be a tough goal.
“I just want the team to improve as the season goes on, and hopefully we build for next year and the years to come,” Gerber said.