Sports

Merchants close out pre-season, start 50th season

By Colin Percy

Training camp has wrapped up, the exhibition schedule has closed and the Norwich Merchants turn their attention to the 50th season which kicks off Saturday night on home ice against the Woodstock Navy Vets.

Before that home opener, head coach Dave Smith had two more opportunities to tinker with the line-up as the Merchants took on the Hagersville Hawks in a pair of games.

Blake Pow opened the scoring for Norwich 12:29 into the first after he was gifted the goal from an errant Hawks clearance that saw the puck land on Pow's stick in front of the net. Jesse Dunn slipped home a shot with 56 seconds left in the first to lead by a deuce after the first period.

The Hawks clawed one back 6:01 into the second period – the frame's lone goal. Hagersville tied the game 3:54 into the third period before taking the lead 30 seconds later. Hagersville would score their fourth unanswered goal with 6:21 left in the game and held on for the 4-2 victory. Zach Jankovic and Simon Storoschuk notched assists for Norwich while Tyler Gubesch made 22 saves in the loss where Norwich out-shot the Hawks 27-26.

Norwich hit the road Sept. 9 to take on those same Hawks in Hagersville. Norwich came out of the gates with a chip on their shoulder playing a more physical contest than the night prior. Thomas Hogg buried his second of the pre-season late in the first give Norwich a lead. A scoreless second period saw both teams trade chances, but Norwich put the game to bed in the third thanks to tallies from John Foreman and Jankovic. Brandon McIntosh and Gubesch combined for 20 plus saves in the 3-0 shutout victory.

Norwich now turns their attention to the regular season which opens Saturday against the Woodstock Navy Vets 7:30 p.m.

Norwich will be opening up their 50th season in existence and plans to celebrate that achievement with a Fan Fest prior to their home opener.

Beginning at 4 p.m., the parking lot of the Nor-Del Arena will transformed into a party atmosphere with games littered about including bowling, a mini-putt challenge, shooting challenge and bubble soccer inflatables available for kids to partake in. There will also be three bouncy inflatables along with free cotton candy and popcorn to enioy. The Remax hot air balloon will also be on hand to take patrons in the air. Half a dozen food trucks will be present to provide a variety of items for your tastebuds along with a licensed beer garden. Following the game Mackenzie Leigh Meyer – an up and coming country star will perform a free concert in the parking lot. Activities for the kids are free as is admission to the game against the Navy Vets.

The Home Opener will give fans their first complete look at the 50th edition of the Merchants. Representatives from the Ontario Hockey Association will be on hand to present the Merchants with a token of congratulations to commemorate their 50th season. Norwich Township Mayor Larry Martin, along with town council and arena staff will too be on hand to partake in pre-game festivities before the action kicks off against their bitter rivals from Woodstock.

Dave Smith will have a mix of veteran and rookie players in the line-up. Captain Troy Lamoure returns to anchor a relatively new blue line that features rookies Alex Sutherland, Zack Jankovic and 16-year-old Sam Davies. Matt Larochelle and Thomas Hogg return from last year's squad. Damon Lemmon rounds out the defensive core. Lemmon played nine games for Norwich last season before being traded to the Ayr Centennials where he helped the squad to their second consecutive Schmalz Cup Championship.

The forward core should be full of goal-scoring potential. Norwich native Ryan Dayman is back for his third season. Blake Pow and Mason Cooper are back for their sophomore season while Springford's Jesse Dunn returns for his third season. Riley Monture, Brett Parsons and Brandon Velda will be donning the red and white for their overage seasons while John Foreman returns for his first full season with the Merchants. Seth Lamoure and Brandon Odorojan will be making their Merchants debut this season. In goal, Tyler Gubesch returns. Gubesch played the second most games in Ontario last season. Joining Tyler between the pipes is Brandon McIntosh who has impressed thus far in camp.

Dave Smith will be joined on the bench by assistant coaches Dennis Jarrell, Aaron Wirth and Sean McLeod. Mark Baxter returns as head trainer with Seth Allen on board as assistant trainer. Andy Riley continues his role as general manager.

OVERTIME

110 Club passes are now available for the 50th season. For only $110, fans receive admission to all 20 home games that will feature a variety of events taking place to commemorate the 50th season including Alumni Homecoming Nights beginning on Sept. 29. The 110 club passes also include your tickets to the fall fish fry on Nov. 18 and the spring fish fry on April 21, 2018 where plans for the spring fry are to return the meal to the arena floor – a place the fish frys used to be held on many years ago.