The Grande Prairie Athletics are set to open the NPHL season tonight in Grimshaw with a younger and yet, familiar look.
The black uniforms the team will play with at home won’t be the only change made this season for the Athletics. As is the case in the world of senior hockey players come and go and the 2014 – 2015 campaign of the A’s will be no different.
The problem for the Athletics is where they got depleted.
The biggest loss of bodies came on the back end for Grande Prairie. Last season the team carried eight defensemen and at times remained short whether it was due to injury or work commitments. This season the blue line has been depleted and for much of the pre-season the A’s have been forced to rely on playing some forwards on the back end to round out the roster.
Gone from last years D-corps are Darrin Fowler, Chad Sutherland, and Tyrell Mason. Arguably one of the best defensemen in the league Mason will be a huge hole to fill for a team who is struggling to find bodies on the blue line. Both Cody Moulds and Dustin Gould, two members who spent last year with the team have played just one game between them in the exhibition season thus far and it’s unsure of when, or if, both of them will be back. With a potential of five spots vacated Grande Prairie may be having to make some forwards become permanent solutions on defense.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Returning defensemen Mike Mohr, Kevin Poston, and Matt Quigly should provide stability for the A’s and will be joined by newcomers Mark Stojan, Dylan Moulds, and Peter Landry.
Stojan returns home to Grande Prairie having spent the last few years manning the blue line for the University of Calgary Dinos. Dylan Moulds, the younger brother of Cody, joins the team following the collapse of the Hythe Mustangs last season. Landry found his way to the team through some of the other players in Grande Prairie.
The Athletics will (and won’t) face a lot of change up front with a younger forward core and even some veterans from years past.
The loss of forwards Shane Mudryk, Morgan McLean, and Jake Goldsmith should be offset with the additions of some younger faces in the likes of former JDA Kings forwards Lyndin Lewis, Devin Bell, former Mustangs Aaron Dumas and Trent Dorias, Cody Anderson, Sawyer Mick, and Sam Paquet. Returning from last year and joining them will be Andrew Buote, Adam Boytinck, Grant Rix, Blaine Bablitz, Tanner Labbe, Paul Larocque, Brock Clement, and Matt Albinati. Fans of the Athletics in the past should recognize some familiar faces as well as long time A’s Jordan Bombier and Rod Bowers return for one more shot at a league championship. They all will be joined by long time captain, Kelly McLeod.
Not much to report in net for the Athletics as both David Larson and Darren Walker return for another season.
In the box
From top to bottom the A’s roster will be a little different. Stepping away from the team this past off season was head coach Ryan Widdifield who has been succeeded by former assistant coach BJ Clark. Clark will be joined this season on the bench by former player and defensemen Brant Stilwell along with returning members Rich Stranaghan and Ray Marcoux.
And So It Begins
With so much uncertainty facing the league this season one thing will be a given, the on ice quality. With just six teams left standing for the season it seems as if every club has picked up quality players from those teams who have had to fold.
Grande Prairie has had strong regular season’s since the last time they won in 2009 but haven’t won a league championship since. With time dwindling on a lot of current roster players careers it’s apparent that the Athletics need to win and win now. It won’t come easy and with every club improving the A’s will have to as well.
The team should boast a influence of new speed this year with the arrival of new players but the veteran leadership throughout the dressing room will continue to keep the team on track and focused on the end goal.
Grande Prairie opens the season in Grimshaw and will face undoubtedly an inspired Huskies team who last season nearly upset the East Champion Falher Pirates and will be looking to build upon a new influence of players as well.
Join us on the road or visit us on Twitter (@gpathletics) for in game updates for tonights game.