Will McCracken is thrilled to be wearing a Chatham Maroons jersey after years of cheering for the team.
The Lighthouse Cove native is one of five rookie defencemen on the Maroons, who began the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season by splitting two weekend games.
“I played Chatham minor hockey growing up,” he said. “I remember when we were little, we went into the old room here to meet the players. That was a pretty cool experience. It’s nice that I can be back and do that again.”
McCracken scored the Maroons’ lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the St. Marys Lincolns in Sunday’s home opener before 324 fans at Chatham Memorial Arena.
“It’s a great feeling playing in this barn,” said the soon-to-be 18-year-old. “My main reason coming here is I grew up watching the Maroons, so it’s a great feeling being out here. It sucks we couldn’t get the first (home) win, but we’ll be back at it next week.”
The Maroons opened the season Saturday with a 6-3 win in Komoka.
Even with that game under their belts, there were still some nerves playing in front of the Chatham fans Sunday, McCracken said.
Cole Schnittker of the Lincolns opened the scoring midway through the first period.
“Definitely at home there were still some of those jitters,” McCracken said. “I think we had a really strong opening 10 minutes of the first period and then the jitters definitely got to us … where they popped that one. I think the second period, we came out and we got rid of those jitters, though.”
McCracken’s goal from the left circle tied the score at 17:43 of the second period.
The six-foot-three, 198-pound McCracken signed and practised with the Maroons for the 2020-21 season that was never held.
He arrived with junior experience after playing in 2019-20 with the Blenheim Blades.
“It’s nice. I’m used to the physicality,” he said. “The puck moves totally different in this league, which is nice, but I definitely think that year of junior with the Blades helped me out and I thank them a lot.”
Damian Pancino of the Lincolns beat Maroons netminder Brenden Stroble for the winning goal at 15:08 of the third period.
Jordan Daer added an empty-netter with 4.8 seconds to go.
Stroble finished with 28 saves, while ex-Maroon Bryce Walcarius stopped 38 shots for the Lincolns.
The Maroons were short-handed on the blue-line with three defencemen out. Craig Spence was called up to the Mississauga Steelheads for an OHL exhibition game, and rookies Noah Szabo and Ty Durston were also missing.
To replace them, the Maroons called up Blain Bacik from the Blenheim Blades and moved Bhrett Hibbert to the back end.
The team didn’t look as sharp as in Saturday’s opener, veteran defenceman Ryan McKim said.
“We couldn’t get any systems, we couldn’t get any structure out there,” he said. “We were just running around a lot and it cost us a few goals.”
The Maroons dressed 11 rookie skaters. They’re still working on their chemistry, but McKim is sure that will come.
“We’re still trying to find our lines together and get some jell going and play a little more as a team rather than individuals,” he said.
NOTES: Forwards Lucas Fancy and Brody Fraleigh joined Szabo and Durston on the sidelines for both weekend games. … The Maroons visit the St. Thomas Stars on Friday and host the Sarnia Legionnaires at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. … The Maroons announced Saturday that maximum capacity has been increased to 500 people. Patrons 12 and older must be fully vaccinated. They’ll have to provide a paper or downloaded copy of their vaccine certificate and proof of identity. … LaSalle, Leamington and London have 1-0-0-0 records. They’re the only unbeaten teams in the Western Conference.