I’ve done my best to keep up with the comings and goings of all seven teams in the loop throughout the offseason, and it looks like this could be one of the more competitive seasons, top-to-bottom, in a long time. With such great parity in the league, you’d have to be foolish to try and predict what will happen, and who will be left standing six months from now. Lucky for you, I am that foolish. And since I never get tired of reminders of times that I was wrong, here are my fearless predictions for the 2015-16 COJHL season.
1. Uxbridge Bruins - That low murmur you’re hearing is the sound of fans on the east side of Lakeridge Rd. calling me a homer. Well, I don’t live in Uxbridge anymore. And even if I did, I still think this is a good pick. The Bruins have seen their season end in the league finals each of the past three seasons. Their strong veteran core has hopefully learned some tough lessons along the way, and will be on a mission this season. Big, strong and skilled, they’ve got likely the top goalie in the league in Branden Francey, and might have brought in the best newcomer, with hometown boy Brady Baker patrolling the blueline after spending the past two seasons in Stouffville. Once again, the Bruins reload while other teams in the league rebuild.
2. Port Perry MoJacks - How great would this be? The top rivalry in the league battling for top spot late in the season would be great for my job, and even moreso for fans. With 2015 Rookie of the Year Blake Shaw back between the pipes, the all-round play of top defenceman Lucas Berkers, and Lucas Clark, my pre-season pick for MVP alongside a fast, skilled and disciplined core of returning players and some dynamic newcomers, the MoJacks should take another big step forward in Clair Cornish’s second year behind the bench.
3. Clarington Eagles - Last year’s champs highlighted their offseason by trading for former Lakefield goalie Zach Wainman, who helped lead the Chiefs to a provincial title in 2014. Going from Connor Visca to Wainman is a gigantic step forward, and adding to a strong returning core, the Eagles could very well swoop down on the league with a strong run this season.
4. Little Britain Merchants - It seems like every year, the Shopkeepers boast the top offensive line in the league and this year looks to be more of the same with Keegan Cairns, a threat to score every time he steps on the ice, joining forces with Kenzie Smith and last year’s provincial players of the year Terry Snodden. His hometown Bruins not inviting now-overage goalie Garrett Haden to training camp in 2011 continues to sting the Bruins all these years later. Depth beyond top players will determine their fate.
5. Lakefield Chiefs - They rarely have a down year, but this may be it. On the other hand, with a fertile Peterborough drawing area, they could just as easily contend for a title.
6. North Kawartha Knights - Lost some key players after joining COJHL last season, but should improve in their second season.
7. Georgina Ice - Showing signs of improvement, but not enough to challenge the top teams.