The Tillsonburg Hurricanes have used the summer to reload and retool in anticipation of the 2018-19 Greater Metro Junior Hockey League season.
The Hurricanes enter their third year in the league and will bring back 11 returning players as well as some added firepower when the puck drops Sept. 8.
Last season saw the Hurricanes go with a younger core of players with the objective of thinking longterm. Team owner Ian Ellis said with many returnees and a strong group coming in, they’ve established a three-year goal for a championship.
“Our target is within three years to win the league. We’ll take a championship year now, but our goal is within three years,” he said. “We’ve built a team of 11 returning players and new ones coming in.”
Among the players coming in are Ivan Bondarenko, who had 126 points in the Western States Hockey League for the Oklahoma City Jr. Blazers.
“He’s dynamite. He’s going to bring a lot of firepower to our team. We’re happy to have built a program he recognizes you can have success before you head to pro camps. He’s been in pro camps before, but they recommend another year to develop,” Ellis said. “He’s fast and has great hands and terrific intelligence.”
Todd Bredo, a former draft pick of the Medicine Hat Tigers of Western Hockey League, Mitch Randell, who was the captain of the Burford Bulldogs last season, and Taylor Woolcutt, who was with Elliott Lake Wildcats of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, also join the fold.
Kyle Fritz, who played in the Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League, was also brought in to help the team in net.
Tillsonburg local and leading scorer Griffin Sinden also returns after posting 72 points in 36 games as a 16-year-old.
“Those four guys plus our leading scorer last year, Griffin Sinden, will bring a lot of skill. Griffin’s got a bright future ahead. I don’t care the level, it’s impressive as a 16-year-old to get 72 points,” Ellis said.
“Our target is 300 goals this year. I think we should be able to do that with those new guys and the returning players. Our goaltending is going to be strong,” he added.
“We have a front loaded team with a big defence who are all 6’2” and bigger and we’re pleased with our goaltending. We think we’ve built something to take us a good distance into the playoffs.”
A balanced schedule will be introduced with teams playing one another in two home games instead of meeting some teams six or more times. Tillsonburg will also have the bulk of their home games towards the end of the season.
Tillsonburg will also have new jerseys for the start of the season and keep their dark ones as a third jersey. Ellis said they also hope to expand on their community involvement and hope to grow closer ties with Tillsonburg Minor Hockey Inc.
“We want people from the surrounding townships to come in,” Ellis said. “We’re in Tillsonburg, but we’re an Oxford County team… If we put a good winning product on the ice, people will come.”
The team will also have their training camp Aug. 28 and 29 in Woodstock, with details available on the team website.
Ellis said they’ve improved their program in each of the first three seasons and go to the players for feedback in-season for ways to improve. They also began the recruitment process last December.
“We wanted our name out there and we wanted players to understand if they come here they can win a championship and move to the next level. We’re in a better spot than we were in past seasons,” he said. “We listened to what successful teams were doing. Teams pass on their success to other teams, so they can be successful. They want to see everyone succeed. It’s a full year process.”
Head coach Jason Dopaco returns along with assistant Chris Bain and Mark Jones. Former player, Sweaburg’s Nick Medica will also be behind the bench as an assistant.
“Jason does a fantastic job. He came in with great knowledge and enthusiasm and understands how the business work. I know one day he’ll move on to a higher level because he does a great job for this team,” Ellis said. “He puts in so many hours and it’ll pay off for him. He deserves everything he gets because he puts tremendous effort in.”
Ellis noted the team is looking for billets and they are adding local sponsors. He said people interested in billeting can contact him, with the team offering profiles on players to make sure it’s a good fit for all involved. Players arrive toward the end of August and stay until the end of March and pay $525 to be billeted with food.
“We want a clean positive environment,” he said. “We want to make sure everyone fits together.”
Tillsonburg’s season starts Sept. 8 against Windsor and they have their home opener Sept. 28 against the Kingsville Kings.
“We’re very excited for the start of the season and the potential this team has,” Ellis said. “This is going to be a very strong and exciting group of players this season.”
For more information on the team’s schedule, billeting, or the Aug. 28-29 training camp, visit the team website at www.tillsonburgjrahockeycamp.ca or call Ellis at 519-573-7223.