'A new direction': Valley Wildcats completely overhaul roster

Published on January 11, 2017

The Valley Wildcats picked up a win Jan. 8, defeating the St. Stephen County Aces 5-3 at home in Berwick.

©Gary Manning

BERWICK - The Valley Junior A Wildcats have undergone a complete roster overhaul.

In the days leading up to the Maritime Hockey League trade deadline, the Wildcats were involved in 10 different transactions as of Jan. 8 - the most of any team in the league - and unloaded all of their veteran players.

The under-achieving Wildcats, currently tied for fifth place in the MHL's Eastlink South Division, made the decision to be sellers at the trade deadline, trading their 20-year-old players to the teams around the league looking to add for their playoff pushes in exchange for young prospects and draft picks.

And while trading away your team leaders isn't a great feeling, Wildcats assistant coach Andre Lefebvre says he's very excited about the players they're getting in return.

“They're exceptional hockey players. I think a lot of people are going to want to come out and see these kids.”

Valley got the ball rolling Jan. 2, sending team captain Nick Gibson and forward Lukas Kane - plus draft picks and future considerations - to the Dieppe Commandos in exchange for the rights to 17-year-old Newfoundland Major Midget player Ryan Ricketts and 17-year-old Brock MacLeod from Dartmouth who has spent the first half of this season with the Sherbrooke Phoenix of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, as well as draft picks and future considerations.

The Wildcats sent goaltender Justin Ritcey to the Yarmouth Mariners in exchange for the rights to Colby Muise, plus conditional fifth- and eighth-round draft picks in 2018 and future considerations.

Valley also acquired Matt Mercer from Huntsville, Ontario for future considerations. The 19-year-old defenceman from Vaughn, Ontario comes with plenty of size and some Major Junior experience.

There were also three separate deals involving only draft picks being exchanged between Valley and Dieppe, and twice with the Campbellton Tigers.

They're exceptional hockey players. I think a lot of people are going to want to come out and see these kids. Wildcats assistant coach Andre Lefebvre

Valley dealt Jean-Marc Evans-Renaud to the Pictou County Weeks Crushers for Brendan Humphreys, the rights to Major Midget Wildcats goalie Cole McLaren, a second round draft pick in 2018 and future considerations.

Humphreys was then flipped to the Campbellton Tigers, along with two draft picks and future considerations, for the rights to 17-year-old St. John's, NL native Kyle McGrath.

Valley sent forward Grant Janes to the Amherst Ramblers in exchange for the rights to Ben Reade and Nick Cullen, plus future considerations.

Cullen, who plays for the Cole Harbour Wolfpack of the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League, scored the game winning goal, his first MHL goal, in the Wildcats' 5–3 win over the County Aces Sunday afternoon in Berwick.

Arguably the biggest trade sent 20-year-old Kentville native Nic Blanchard to the Truro Bearcats in exchange for James Locke, the rights to Johnny Foley, Matt Greene and Jacob Stewart, plus a third round draft pick in 2018 and future considerations.

Truro head coach and general manager Shawn Evans told the Truro Daily News that he paid a high price for Blanchard, who had been the Wildcats' leading scorer, but insists it was worth it for his club.

“If we were going to make a move like this, we wanted what we felt was the best player available, and we thought that Nic is that player.”

One of the final transaction announced at the trade deadline was for the final 20-year-old Wildcat – Evan Scott – who was sent to Estevan, in Saskatchewan, for future considerations. The Wildcats also gave up an eighth round pick in the 2018 draft to Campbellton in exchange for the rights  to Alex Nauss.

 

Riley Cunningham, front, buries the puck in the net in the Wildcats’ 5-3 win over the County Aces from St. Stephen, NB on Jan. 8.

©Gary Manning

Looking ahead

Lefebvre is already looking to the future, and could hardly contain his excitement about some of the players coming to the team following Valley's win over St. Stephen Jan. 8 in Berwick.      

“We've got Johnny Foley coming in from the Charlottetown Islanders this week. He's a kid I've known for a long time, working with him back in the city. We've got Brock MacLeod coming in. He's a Dartmouth kid who was up in Sherbrooke in the QMJHL. Real good solid kid, good solid person. And we've got Jacob Stewart coming in, a goaltender who was in Blainville in the Q,” Lefebvre said.

“Jake simply got caught in a numbers game in Blainville. He was behind arguably the best goaltender in the Quebec league right now and a very capable back up. So he's going to come down and get some quality minutes with us.”

Lefebvre says the rest of the MHL season won't be easy with such a young team, but says the future for the Junior A Wildcats is extremely bright.

“There's going to be some bumps, but with the young guys and the young guys we've got coming in later this week, there is a lot of excitement on shaping this thing in a new direction.”

 

 

Win, loss to start 2017

 

The Valley Junior A Wildcats opened 2017 with a win and a loss.

On Jan. 5, the Wildcats travelled to New Glasgow for the first Maritime Hockey League game of the New Year and fell 8–1 to the league leading Pictou County Weeks Crushers.

The game was close with Pictou County leading 1–0 after the first period, then the Crushers' offense took over in the second period, scoring five more times.

Valley's lone goal came in the middle of the third period off the stick of veteran defenceman Evan Scott.

Greg Maggio surrendered six goals on 39 shots through two periods. Dakota Lund-Cornish, goaltender for the Halifax Macs Major Midgets, played the third period in goal for the Wildcats.

Jacob Hickey led the Crushers with two goals and an assist in the win.

Maggio bounced back Jan. 8 at the Kings Mutual Century Centre in Berwick, as the Wildcats picked up a 5–3 win over the County Aces from St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

The goaltender from Cloverdale, Britsh Columbia stopped 45 shots in the win, and was named the first star of the game.

Once again, Scott led the Wildcats' attack, picking up three assists in the win. Riley Cunningham and Curtis Scales each had a goal and an assist. Cole Harbour Wolfpack Major Midget forward Nick Cullen played his first game with the Junior A Wildcats and scored his first MHL goal, which ended up as the game winner.

Valley assistant coach Andre Lefebvre says Cullen, whose rights were picked up this past week in a trade with the Amherst Ramblers that sent Grant Janes the other way, is a player Valley has had its eye on for a long time.

“We actually brought him to camp last year as a free agent, and he was one of the kids we targeted in the draft but unfortunately we weren't able to get him. He did a real good job for us tonight. It was nice to see him get that goal and show off what he can do.”

If you go: The Wildcats play two games this coming weekend. On Jan. 14, they visit the Amherst Ramblers, starting at 7 p.m. Valley then plays at home in Berwick Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. against the Truro Bearcats.