Season one isn’t over, but year one is.
The Burns Lake Timbermen are in their expansion season in the Greater Metro Junior-A Hockey League (GMHL), putting the roster and staff together from scratch.
One of the founding coach/general manager figures, Stefan Fournier, got called back to be a player/coach in professional hockey so he handed the reins entirely to his associate team leader James Dyment.
Derek Prue, the GMHL West Division executive director also kept a close involvement to ensure the upstart franchise was staying on the right path.
Prue gave the Lakes District News a New Year’s state of the union address, as the league took its Christmas break and the calendar changed to 2023.
One of the most important developments, said Prue, was the emergence of Mutann “Mac” Cardinal to replace Fournier. Cardinal was brought in as the team physiotherapist, but as a former Prince George Spruce King and University of Alberta Golden Bear, his hockey knowledge soon came to light. Dyment elevated him to assistant coach, then, over the break, named him associate head coach. Dyment remains general manager, but shares the head coaching duties equally with Cardinal.
“They are both capable guys and we are trying to get both of them to their highest level,” said Prue. “Mac was going above and beyond what he brought to the table at first, so we wanted to take advantage of that.”
The Timbermen went into the hiatus with a record of two wins and 10 losses, but a solid attendance record and appreciable team growth. Prue is happy with the situation.
“It’s awesome to see how the community has embraced them,” he said. “For a first-year team, they are out there in the community, in the schools reading to the kids, inspiring minor hockey, and I don’t know that you can really expect much more. The people on the board are fantastic, really making things happen. All the things that are supposed to be happening are happening.”
Burns Lake’s audience understands the whole game of hockey, not just the blare of a goal horn. Prue said the grasp the town has of this being a team being built from the ground up - no carry-over players at training camp, no season ticket holder history, no long-term sponsorships - means nothing but optimism for when the very young team starts to be augmented by experienced players and older players. Higher ages and more games played in Junior hockey will come, with time, and perhaps sooner than many realize.
Prue was unable to talk about details, because dotted lines still needed signatures, but there are transactions in the days ahead.
“The signing deadline is Jan. 16. There will be new faces added, you have to do that in our situation, because we don’t have a Midget-AAA team to draw from,” Prue said.
The changes coming to the roster might be surprising, to a community not yet accustomed to the way a Junior-A team is constructed. In Burns Lake’s case, there may be some subtractions, but mostly it will be additions.
“I think people will be pretty impressed with what’s going to happen as we try to beef up our lineup. They’re trying to put the pieces together to go for a run, after Christmas,” said Prue. “There is a whole whack of ways of doing that. Each coach usually has a sphere of influence of who they know, from where they’ve been. The players often know of other guys. There are basically 30 teams in our league who are looking to position themselves, so they are available for trades. Some teams have too many guys, so they can move people. You have older players come available, because we have a cap on that, per team. They could be in different leagues but unhappy. There are guys who thought they were done hockey but at mid-season they’ve got the itch again and those are experienced players in Junior hockey so some real talent can emerge.”
He couldn’t promise wins, he said, but he could promise an exciting on-ice product and a positive community presence for the second half of the season.
The next three Timbermen home games are on Jan. 14 versus the Kitimat Saax, Jan. 27 versus the Mackenzie Mountaineers, and Feb. 4 versus the Saax once again.