Last season wasn’t the way the Grande Prairie Athletics expected to finish. With a wealth of talent scattered throughout the roster and having finished the season with the NPHL’s best regular season record the A’s looked poised to make a potential run at capturing another Campbell Cup, something that has eluded the team since the 2009-2010 season. Unfortunately they were defeated in the semi-finals by the eventual champion Spirit River Rangers 4 games to 2 which set the offseason into effect and started the transition to the team that will take the ice this Saturday night with the NPHL season opener.
It’s been along time since the Athletics last stepped on the ice to play a regular season game and undoubtedly a lot has changed over the course of those summer months, the most notable being the team roster.
Fans that have followed the Grande Prairie Athletics over the course of the past few seasons will probably end up using their roster sheet a few more times trying to figure out all the fresh new faces on the team.
To give an indication as to how many have departed the A’s from last season the list is as follows: defensemen Donny Lloyd, Andrew Derton, and Jordan Menzies along with forwards Scotty Taje, Jordan Bombier, Karey Pieper, Dean Watson, Logan Goodswimmer and Morgan McLean. Of course while the possibility remains that any number of those players could come back and join the roster it’s no secret that when the Athletics open the season this Saturday night there will be a handful of players making there NPHL debut.
There won’t be any changeover in between the pipes for the Athletics as both Dave Larson and Darren Walker will return for another season. Both netminders finished one/two in goals against when the regular season ended and should once again help provide stability at the position.
Perhaps the biggest transition for the Athletics this season will be on the blueline. With the likes of Lloyd, Derton and Menzies departed the A’s will rely a lot on returning veterans Mike Mohr, Kevin Poston, Tyrell Mason, Brant Stilwell and Darin Fowler. Joining them on the backend this year will be newcomer Matt Quigley who had played Senior hockey previously out East with the Western Royals. Along with Quigley comes two players from the Grande Prairie JDA Kings, former captain Chad Sutherland and a member of last years championship team, Dustin Gould. Rounding out the defensemen is Justin Callon.
In:Matt Quigley, Chad Sutherland, Dustin Gould, Justin Callon
Out:Donny Lloyd, Andrew Derton, Jordan Menzies
While the blue line could be the biggest transition the group up front should have A’s fans excited for much of the season. Last season captain Kelly McLeod led the team in scoring with 33 points in 21 games and will return once more for another season. Joining him will be returning regulars Brock Clement, Shane Mudryk, Grant Rix, Jake Goldsmith, Matt Albinati, Rollie Gladue, and Rod Bowers.
With a line and a half gone from last years team the A’s have had a wealth of fresh faces join this years roster. Hockey fans who have followed the Grande Prairie Storm should recognize some of the new names added to this years roster. Andrew Buote joins the Athletics this year after having spent the past two years playing in the Chinook Hockey League. Buote spent three years with the Storm (2004 – 2007) prior to departing for Union College in the NCAA.
Other past Storm players joining this years roster will be forwards Adam Boytinck, Tanner Labbe and Blaine Bablitz. Both Boytinck and Labbe spent the past two years with the Storm and should help spark the offense with their speed. Prior to spending the past few seasons working with the Storm behind the bench Bablitz spent time in the Central and East Coast Hockey League after finishing four years at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Other newcomers up front include Paul Larocque, Nick Reilly, Ryan Chapman and Joey Bilodeau. Last season Bilodeau had taken an absence from Senior hockey because of an injury but is back for another season. Nick Reilly played a few games with Athletics last year before finishing the season with the Hythe Mustangs, he too is back for the upcoming season.
Paul Larocque spent the previous four seasons with the Grande Prairie JDA Kings and played a part in that team capturing it’s first ever championship last year.
After having taken years off from Senior hockey Chapman joins the A’s for his first season. Chapman had previously played most of his hockey in Dawson Creek.
In:Andrew Buote, Adam Boytinck, Paul Larocque, Tanner Labbe, Blaine Bablitz, Ryan Chapman, Joey Bilodeau, Nick Reilly, Garrett Buchanen
Out:Scott Taje, Morgan McLean, Logan Goodswimmer, Dean Watson, Jordan Bombier, Karey Pieper.
Be sure to join us this Saturday night as the new look Athletics will kick off the NPHL season as they host the Fort St. John Flyers. Game time is set for 8:30pm at the Coca Cola Centre.