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Ancaster Avs coach upbeat on prospects despite key departures

‘Good nucleus back’ to help team improve, Kuwabara says

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Ancaster Jr. Avalanche’s bench boss says he doesn’t foresee his team losing a step this season despite the departure of some key 20-year-olds, including top scorer Zach Nieminen.

Ryan Kuwabara, who doubles as coach and GM, said returning forwards Luke Zupan, Michael Pollice and Cole Nagy will be expected “to carry the scoring a bit” as the Jr. B squad enters its second season in Ancaster since relocating from Stoney Creek.

“I think we’re going to be competitive, probably a little more so than last year,” he said. “We have a good block of returning guys.”

The team is set to wind up its training camp and preseason schedule, hosting the Guelph Hurricanes at 7 p.m. on Sept. 4 at Morgan Firestone Arena, the second last tune-up game before things begin for real in Pelham against the Pirates on Sept. 12.

The season’s home opener against the Niagara Falls Canucks is the next evening at 7 p.m. at Firestone.

 “We’re going to have a good nucleus back and then hopefully we’ll see,” said Kuwabara, the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s 2013-14 coach of year in the Golden Horseshoe Conference.

“I think there’s some good young guys coming and I think there’s some good guys at camp (from) what I’ve seen,” he said.

“If we can just get better than what we did last year, that’s our main goal, keep improving, keep improving every year until we’re able to make a run.”

The Avalanche has shown steady improvement in the three years since Kuwabara took the helm, finishing fifth in the nine-team Golden Horseshoe Conference last season before bowing out to Thorold in five games in the first round of the playoffs.

The former Montreal Canadiens draft pick said the team’s goaltending situation is still “up in the air” because of the potential loss of starter Blake Richard, who was called up by the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara IceDogs in January.

Kuwabara said if Blake makes the Jr. A team’s lineup this year, the Avs will turn to backup Matt Calas, who stepped in last year to post a 3.36 goals against average and .844 save percentage in 17 games.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “It’s the unfortunate part of where we are and it’s going to be a little bit of a trickle-down effect from the OHL.”

Kuwabara said it’s tough to develop players only see them leave, but he’s hopeful the Avalanche’s efforts to tie in with Ancaster’s boys and girls minor hockey will pay off by making the team “the natural progression” for those moving up the ranks.

“Realistically, it takes time for a team to develop in the community,” he said, pointing to the experience of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in becoming a fixture there.

“Hopefully some of the young guys who are now playing for the Avalanche, the minors, will aspire to come play for us when they’re of age.”

Season tickets are now on sale and are $100 for adults, $50 for children, students and seniors, and $20 for Ancaster minor hockey and figure skating participants.
For more information, visit ancasteravalanche.ca or contact Brian Lewis at brian@ancasteravalanche.ca or 905-973-9149.

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