The Huntsville Jr C Otters 2015-2016 hockey season came to an abrupt end this weekend, with a 5-0 game five loss at home to the Erin Shamrocks in the first round of the GBMOJCHL playoffs.
The Otters big guns were once again held silent as the Shamrocks stuck to their game plan of playing shutdown hockey against the potent Huntsville offense. Throughout the five game series, the Shamrocks were able to limit the Otters to just seven goals, an admirable accomplishment against a team that had scored 3.9 goals per game during the regular season.
“Their goaltender really came to play in the playoffs,” said Otters General Manager Craig Shaw. “We definitely out-chanced them. But defensive breakdowns on our side cost us. They defended well, they worked hard, and blocked shots. Anyone can win, and Erin proved that. And so did the other teams in the league; Caledon beat Stayner, Penetang beat Midland, the only top seed team to go on is Alliston. It’s kind of an odd statistic, but kudos to those teams for working hard.”
While it certainly wasn’t the result they were hoping for, the Otters have much to be proud of this year, including finishing in the top two teams in the standings with a 20-16-4 overall record and improving on last year’s third-place finish.
“I think we had a pretty good season, coming second overall,” said Shaw. “We are continuing to improve, it just seems we get in tough in these battles in the playoffs, where the lower seeds seem to get our number. It’s not how we envisioned the year to end for us, and it’s definitely disappointing, but to sound like a Leafs fan, there’s always next year.”
Other bright spots for Huntsville throughout the season included several All Star selections and individual awards, led by Andy Baker earning honours as Top Rookie while Kyle Burns was chosen as the league’s Top Defender. Several other players had the opportunity to showcase their skills for postsecondary scouts, where they will be moving on to play for college and university teams across the continent next season.
With the Otters icing a rather veteran lineup this year, there will be a high degree of turnover for the 2016-17 roster. Veteran Jay Dix will age out, while tough decisions will have to be made regarding the eight 20-year-olds on the team, as only four 21-year-olds will be able to be carried over. Adding in the fact Andy Baker will likely be moving up to play at a higher level means at least six spots will open up for new players.
The influx of fresh faces doesn’t mean expectations for next season are any lower, however.
“I want to be a top three team again and competing right there with the Allistons and the Stayners,” said Shaw. “Thats our plan going forward, we still have a really good core to work with. Jake McIntyre, our captain, he’ll be returning, I expect to see the Zantingh twins back, and am hoping to see Curtis Ballantyne, Sye Ellard, the kids that came partly throughout the year and really added to our team. They’re the kind of players that we are looking for. Great work ethic, strong character, able to play with anybody and good in the dressing room, because teamwork is key.”
Additionally, while nothing is set in stone, Shaw hopes that his award-winning coaching staff will also be back behind the bench next season.
“I think we are going to take some time away from hockey for a little bit, maybe just be fans of hockey, and then reconvene in a couple weeks to discuss it,” said Shaw. “Obviously if they want to return, that’s what we want, to have that consistently in our coaching staff, we don’t want to be flipping coaches all the time. The door is open.”