Dave Smith returns behind bench for Merchants' 50th season

By Colin Percy

A celebration is on the horizon for the Norwich Merchants as their 50th season kicks off on Sept. 16.

The team will kick off the season with a Fan Fest in the parking lot of the Nor-Del Arena featuring food trucks, bouncy castles, games, a beer garden, hot air balloon and two bands – Crown the Lion and The James Cameron band rocking the stage sandwiched between the home opener against the Woodstock Navy Vets at 7:30 p.m. All activities, along with admission to the hockey game, are free for children.

Taking the reigns for the 50th season is a familiar coach in Dave Smith, who replaces Brad Wilkins who departed the club due to family commitments. Smith coached the team from 2006-2009 that included a Niagara Junior C Championship in 2009. Smith's second tenure came in 2014 where he returned mid-way through the season and lead the Merchants to a spot in the Mid-Western Junior C Final eventually falling to the Ayr Centennials. Health concerns saw Smith depart the club again, but with those issues behind him, Smith is eagerly looking forward the squad's 50th season.

Smith says Norwich is also the place he wanted to coach and felt lucky to do so back in 2006. He says he is happy to be back behind the bench and wouldn't return if his heart wasn't in it. He mentions that the Merchants organization has treated him and the players very well.

Joining Smith on the bench is a trio of gentlemen each with a place in Merchants history. Dennis Jarrell coached alongside Smith during the 2006-09 run and will be relied upon heavily to help lead a squad expecting to contend for a championship.

Also joining the bench staff is former player Sean Mcleod who played from 2007-2009 under Coach Smith where he performed at higher than point per game pace and will lend his expertise to the forward core of the Merchants.

Former captain Aaron Wirth rounds out the trio joining Smith's Squad. Wirth spent four seasons in the red and white developing himself as a defensive stalwart on the back-end. Wirth also spent time under Smith as a player including the 2009 championship squad.

The team kicked off their training camp in mid-August and Smith said there have been a few surprises so far, especially with some young players. He mentions the 50th edition of the Merchants will be a younger squad and despite the youth, he expects their work ethic to be second to none. He feels no team will work harder than Norwich as that has been the club's mantra during his previous tenures. Smith says the players out at camp are enthusiastic, listen well and that you can't ask for much more than that. He says Norwich will be an exciting team to watch.

Smith got his first look at the Merchants when the team kicked off their pre-season schedule with back-to-back games against Aylmer, falling 6-2 on the road before pounding the Spitfires on home ice 8-0. They hosted New Hamburg Aug. 27 and walked away with a 5-2 loss. They visited the Firebirds Aug. 31 and round out their pre-season schedule with a home-and-home series against the Hagersville Hawks – Friday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. in Norwich, the following night Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Hagersville.