The Norwich Merchants will start their 50th anniversary Saturday against the Woodstock Navy Vets
Norwich Merchants Thomas Hogg, right, lets go a shot with Ayr Centennials Steven Holmes attempting the block during last years playoffs. The Merchants open their 50th anniversary season at home Saturday against the Woodstock Navy Vets. (Greg Colgan/Woodstock Sentinel-Review)
The Norwich Merchants have been among the most consistent teams in the Junior C loop in the past two decades.
Veteran teams that go on deep playoff runs and finishing high in the standings have been the norm in the southern part of Oxford County.
This year they’ll enter the season with a younger core of players, but will look to continually improve and challenge in the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Doherty Division. The Norwich Merchants will kickoff their 50th anniversary season Saturday at 7:30 p.m. when they host the Woodstock Navy Vets.
“That’s my goal and job is to make them better. We (coaches) break the season down into eight five game segments. We set a goal for each one and we want to win each one of those. If we do, we’ll end up in a good position,” Merchants head coach Dave Smith, who returns behind Norwich’s bench, said in a phone interview. “I want to end as high as we can. My goal’s to win the last game we play. The kids are young and mistakes will happen, but as long as they learn from it and improve.”
The Merchants saw key cogs in their offence move on or graduate after last season, meaning more young players will have opportunities to fill the void.
Last season saw leading scorer Ray Munro, Jordan Gillis and Derek Slaght graduate as overagers. Oliver Wieringa and Matt Caskanette head to St. Marys Lincolns in Junior B.
With the the loss of key offensive pieces, there’ll be a greater emphasis on controlling the flow of the game from their own end out when the puck drops.
“I’ve always been a defensive coach and I like to make sure we take care of our own end first. If we do that, we don’t have to score six goals to win,” Smith said. “We don’t have a lot of scoring punch, so everyone will have to pitch in. Our goaltending is strong, our defence is young but improving.
“The kids are really coming along. I’ve been impressed with most. We still need to work with some to get used to the pace and where they need to be in certain situations… We’ll get them where they need to be,” he added. “They’ve been getting better.”
Troy Lamoure is back as captain with Blake Pow, Brett Parsons and Riley Monture as assistants.
Tyler Gubesch will be the team’s starting goalie again with Embro’s Brandon McIntosh as the backup. On defence, the Merchants will have Thomas Hogg, Damon Lemmon and Lamoure back with Sam Davies, Alex Sutherland and Zach Jankovic join the blue line.
Pow, Ryan Dayman, Mason Cooper, Brandon Velda, Parsons, Jesse Dunn, John Foreman, Matt Larochelle and Monture return up front as Seth Lamoure, Josh Winger, Simon Storoschuk and Brandon Odorjan join the forward corps.
Velda, Parsons, Monture and Lamoure enter as overagers for the season.
Eighteen of the Merchants players will come from Oxford or nearby Haldimand and Norfolk counties, including six from Tillsonburg, two from each of Woodstock, Simcoe and Embro and others from Jarvis, Port Dover and Springford.
Several players will also return from last years team who went 22-18, placed fifth in the division and advanced to the second round of the playoffs against the Schmalz Cup winning Ayr Centennials.
“The playoffs is a whole new game and they did well last year,” Smith said. “I’m hoping that experience will help. We’ve got a lot of new players. They’re listening and they’re learning.”
Smith returns for another stint with Norwich. He last coached with the team in the second half of the 2014-15 season that saw Norwich make the league finals against the Ayr Centennials. He previously coached with the Brantford Golden Eagles in Junior B and the Simcoe Storm as well as Norwich from 2006 to 2009 that including three division titles and a Schmalz Cup appearance in 2009. Aaron Wirth, Sean McLeod and Dennis Jarrell will join as assistants with longtime president Ken Gillanders, general manager Andy Riley and trainer Mark Baxter continuing in their roles.
As what will continue to be the toughest of the eight PJHL divisions, consistency and improving is the name of the game over the course of the next five months of the regular season.
“It’ll be a competitive league and I think anyone’s got a chance to win any night,” Smith said. “If you want to end high in the standings, you’ve got to be consistent.”
For a full schedule for the Norwich Merchants 2017-18 season, visit: http://bit.ly/NorwichMerchants2017
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The Norwich Merchants will also open their 50th anniversary season with a fan fest before their Saturday game, starting at 4 p.m. at the Norwich Community Centre. The lead-up to the game will feature live music, hot air balloon rides, beer garden and games.