NORTH DURHAM: Local junior hockey teams opened the 2016-17 season on a winning note, with the Uxbridge Bruins, Port Perry MoJacks and Little Britain Merchants combining for an undefeated slate of weekend action.
Junior ‘C’ hockey underwent a transformative offseason, marked by rebranding of the province’s eight individual leagues under one banner, as the new Provincial Junior Hockey League. As a result, the former Central Ontario Junior Hockey League (COJHL) is now known as the Eastern Conference’s Orr Division.
In Keswick, on Friday, Sept. 16th, under the leadership of new head coach, Tim Evans, and newly appointed captain, Brady Baker, the Uxbridge Bruins squared off against the Georgina Ice in the first game ever of the new Orr Division, with Uxbridge sealing a 6-4 win, after Derek Dolan’s second of the night, into an empty net with just 28 seconds remaining.
Bruins rookie defenceman, Justin Aikins, scored the Orr Division’s first-ever goal, just over five minutes into the occasion, with assists credited to Jack Schnalzer and Ryan Miehm.
Goals from Patrick Bolahood and Damien Heinle early in the second period gave the Bruins a 3-0 advantage, before the Ice stormed back with three of their own in the last eight minutes of the middle frame, to knot the game 3-3 heading into the third period.
Dolan scored early in the third, but the Ice would roar back to tie the game once more, before Liam Timewell put Uxbridge ahead for good, with just under five minutes to play, and Dolan ultimately adding an insurance tally.
Saturday night the Bruins were back on the road, riding an outstanding performance by returning goaltender Jake Joosten, to a 3-1 victory in Apsley over the North Kawartha Knights. After spending two seasons as the team’s back-up, Joosten, a product of the Uxbridge Minor Hockey system, stopped 46 of the 47 shots fired his way, to pick up his second win in as many nights. Veterans also handled the scoring load for the Bruins, with Patrick Bolahood scoring twice, and with a single to Coby Gardner.
In Port Perry, on Sunday, Sept. 20th, the defending league champion Port Perry MoJacks opened their 44th season of junior hockey, with a dramatic 5-4 win over the Knights.
First period goals were brought by Konrad Piorkowski, Mitch Gustavsen and newly acquired veteran Brady Martin, putting the MoJacks ahead 3-1, before the Knights drew to within a goal in the second. Back between the pipes for Port Perry, 2015 league rookie of the year, Blake Shaw, made several sensational saves to keep the Knights at bay.
Ian Elkins’ first career goal restored a two goal lead for the MoJacks, until a power play marker by the Knights, with just over two minutes to play. However, a shorthanded goal by Piorkowski with 31 seconds remaining put the game out of reach, although the Knights would reply with a power play goal just eight seconds later, to bring a dramatic conclusion to Tom Boyle’s debut as head coach for the MoJacks.
Opening weekend for the Orr Division wrapped up in Sutton on Sunday afternoon, with the Little Britain Merchants needing overtime for a 5-4 win over the Ice.
Derek Risebrough notched his second of the night, just over six minutes into the extra frame, to put the Shopkeepers into the win column, after rallying from a third period deficit.
Jesse Craig, Jordan Sharpe and Kyle O’Donnell also scored for the Merchants, with Chadd Callaghan turning aside 36 shots for his first career win.
On Friday night the Bruins and their alumni will be celebrating their 40th anniversary, with a special pregame family tailgate festival, starting at 5:30 p.m., featuring live music from popular Uxbridge Band ‘Therapy Seekers’, as well as refreshments and giveaways. The home opener gets underway at 7:45 p.m., with the Port Perry MoJacks in town for the first ‘Battle of North Durham’ of the season.
The MoJacks head back home on Sunday, Sept. 25th, to wrap up a rivalry weekend with a 2:25 p.m. match-up against the Clarington Eagles.
The Merchants continue on the road as they visit Bowmanville on Thursday, Sept. 22nd, to tangle with the Eagles, before facing off against the Knights in Apsley on Saturday night.