By Mike Pearson, News staff
Their team has yet to take the ice for a regular season game, but Dan Caco and Dave Hill have already accomplished big things with Stoney Creek’s new Senior AAA hockey franchise.
“Is it exciting?” Caco asks in response to a reporter’s question. “The only exciting thing is the short time span we have to get it going. Normally it takes six, eight months to make your contacts and get players in, but surprisingly, because of the facility and the location, we’ve attracted some pretty good players so far,” said Caco, head coach of the Stoney Creek Generals.
The Generals play their inaugural Allan Cup Hockey League game Saturday in Welland before returning home to the Gateway Ice Centre for a Sunday afternoon match-up with the Norwood Vipers.
The 2 p.m. game is the first chance for local fans to see the Generals in regular season action. The team played a home-and-home preseason series last weekend against the Whitby Dunlops.
Caco and Gateway manager Tony Falasca had discussions about bringing a junior or senior team to Stoney Creek earlier this spring, building upon Caco’s previous experience in Senior AAA and Junior C hockey.
“I said ‘let’s go for it.’ But when he approached me, I thought he was talking about next season.”
The Generals are the fifth team in the Allan Cup League, joining Brantford, Dundas, Norwood, Welland and Whitby.
Aside from the challenges of assembling a small army of game day volunteers, Caco promises the 2014 Generals will be competitive.
“For our first year, if we can stay around .500, that will be a plus,” Caco said. “Once you sign your key guys, they start calling their friends, and those are the guys who actually start building your team.”
While other teams like the Dundas Real McCoys have announced high-profile player signings, Caco and Hill haven’t released even a partial starting roster.
“We kind of want to make a splash,” said Caco.
The team will be stocked with some local talent, including former Grimsby Peach King Kyle McQuade, Beamsville’s Tanner Hildebrandt, Jake Guindon and Stoney Creek native Nathan Pageau.
Caco is immersed in hockey year-round through his business, Steel City Hockey Development. His coaching experience includes the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, the Dundas Blues Jr. C hockey club and the 2008 Brantford Blast, winners of the 100th Allan Cup.
Caco has a special appreciation for the Allan Cup Hockey League and looks forward to challenging for a league title in the years to come. This year’s tournament will be hosted by the Dundas Real McCoys.
“It’s a really good league to coach in,” said Caco. “When I coached in Brantford, I had a lot of fun. They’re adults, they’ve all been through the ranks. I’ve always told people it was one of the best years I’ve ever coached.”
Back in 2008, it was veteran leaders like former Edmonton Oiler Steven Rice who helped lead the way for the Blast. Caco is confident those leaders will emerge during the 2013-14 season.
“You need those guys in this league,” said Caco. “You need your leadership on the ice and off the ice.”
Caco’s brother, John, a graphic artist, designed the Generals’ team logo. It follows the colour scheme of the New York Rangers
General manager Dave Hill has moved through the minor hockey coaching ranks which included a stint with former NHLer Pat Hickey in the Hamilton Bulldogs organization. From there he went on to a defensive cordinator coaching position with the Stoney Creek Warriors Junior B hockey club. Later, he became the Warriors’ assistant general manager, which opened the door to the administrative and recruiting side of hockey.
Hill eventually took the reins as general manager and put together a team that captured the 2009 Golden Horseshoe Junior B Championship.
During the 2010-11 season, Hill left the Warriors to assume a new role with the Junior B St. Catharines Falcons. He spent a year working with former Toronto Maple Leaf Gary Lariviere.
Over the last few years, Hill has enjoyed helping young players find opportunities to show their skills. His own son, Jake, was named defenseman of the year for the 2012-13 season with the Junior C Glanbrook Rangers.
This year, he started yearning for another chance to get involved.
Hill happens to be Caco’s neighbour.
“He came to me six or seven weeks ago and said, ‘hey, there might be an opportunity to be part of the Senior A team in Stoney Creek.’”
Caco promised to be the coach if Hill would be the general manager.
“I said, ‘well, I’m flattered but no, thank you.’”
Three days later, Caco and Hill were advised that the OHA had unanimously approved the Stoney Creek franchise for the 2013-14 season. Hill soon had a change of heart.
“The work then began and it’s been a whirlwind month,” said Hill.
Like Caco, Hill is promising a competitive team on the ice this season.
“My vision is to be competitive in year one, create a presence and an audience, expose the arena and allow the ownership of this team and Grand River Stone, who’s backed us tremendously, to prosper from this opportunity,” Hill said.
Hill believes good players will attract other good players.
“Am I running behind the other clubs? Yeah, but I’m going to catch up. It’s just going to take some time,” said Hill.
Hill sees the demise of the former Stoney Creek Warriors Junior B team as an opportunity to promote a new brand of hockey at the local level.
Citing poor attendance, the Warriors went from Stoney Creek to Ancaster where they are now known as the Avalanche.
“You come to a game and kids are holding signs up because they want to see a certain player or they’re holding up a number and saying, ‘This is my favourite player.’ I see that,” Hill said.
Hill expects fans will be impressed by the on-ice product.
“I think anybody that goes out to see a game will be amazingly impressed by the level and calibre of play,” he said.
Fans may expect a cross-town rivalry with the Real McCoys. But Hill sees the other expansion club, Welland, and the recently revived Norwood team, as the best measuring sticks.
“I think you’ll see the rivalry there first and then you’ll go after the more iconic guys,” said Hill.
Playing at the new, $25-million Gateway Ice Centre should certainly help the team succeed off the ice. Hill praises quality ice, ample viewing areas and amenities that include panoramic rinkside views from Don Cherry’s Sports Grill.
“My end resolve will be to win a bunch of hockey games with 500 people watching. That’s my goal,” said Hill.
“If you’re thinking about it from a family perspective, you’re able to bring your family down and either sit in Don Cherry’s, have a nice platter of wings or a burger, a pop or beer, and watch the game from a nice heated environment with an amazing viewing gallery.”
Along with easy accessibility from the Queen Elizabeth Way, Hill and Caco both agreed on Sunday afternoon game days to promote the expansion of a family-oriented fan base.
This Sunday’s game is actually a make-up date for a game originally scheduled for Family Day. Stoney Creek’s official home opener is Sunday, Nov. 10 at 2 p.m.