NEWPORT–If you are a fan of North Country hockey you probably took a trip to Essex last March to watch the Falcons square off against the Hornets. If you were at said game then you know exactly how the season ended for North Country.
Pushing, shoving, swearing, and extremely disgusting conduct by a member of the Essex community towards the boys in maroon.
Who paid the price?
With multiple player suspensions that carried over into the spring season, some of guys who got suspended like Tyler Coulter recovered from the early season setback to have a fairly decent golf season as the Falcons were amongst the tops in state. Others like Connor Burke ended up not having the season he would have liked out on the diamond.
Ebin Fournier had this to say about the incident from a players prospective.
"Most of us think it was a pretty good game. We held Essex pretty close and we were there until the end. The only issue was that bit of stuff that happened at the end and all of us know that it can't happen again. Now we come in this year with a goal of beating Essex and to stop what happened last year exactly where it is and keep it that way."
Either way, while the incident is behind them, it is still a lingering factor that will continue to provide fuel for the 2011-2012 team as the season gets ready to unfurl this Friday.
When asked about it, coach Andrew Roy did not bother to waste any time discussing the past, instead he delved right into talking about this years' team.
"I think we have a lot of team speed, we have an intelligent group of kids and we are going to look to press the play. We are going to fore check hard, which these guys enjoy doing, and we are going to look to keep the puck out of the net."
Keeping the puck out of the net will be one thing that the coach will not lose a tremendous amount of sleep over, as he has arguably the best goaltender in the state in between the pipes in Chris Bronson.
Says the coach, "He is a game changer. Any day you take the ice with Chris in net, you have a chance to win. He is going to keep us in a lot of games and make saves that a lot of other goalies won't, so we need to make sure we put a good defense in front of him."
Speaking of defense, one thing that Roy is taking a hard look at, defensively speaking, is getting the puck out of his own end.
Last season a big problem for North Country was making that first pass to get out of the zone. A lot of turnovers occurred at their own blue line, resulting in extended shifts and extra work for both Bronson and the Falcon D.
"I think that another year of experience (will help)," said Roy, "Last year we did not have a senior defenseman on the roster, this year we have much more senior leadership on the blue line. Some of those things come with poise in the defensive end and we are going to have to make sure we have accurate passing to get out of our end."
Fournier, who could see himself taking over the captains "C" from Greg Bronson, will be one of the guiding forces on the blue line, continuing to be a leader both on and off the ice.
On his leadership style he says he will be "there in the locker room and on the ice for the defense. The offense has their own leadership with all the seniors. I look to be someone to talk to and to keep every thing settled and deal with any team disputes that are going on."
Logan Judd, who had a goal in the team's first scrimmage, Nathan Corrow, and when he gets healthy, one of the grittiest players on the roster, Cody Simoneau are the other senior D-men that will anchor the defensive core this year.
On offense, a trio that calls themselves the "Squirrel Line" (as seen in J.S. Pucks' latest column) should be the offensive leaders on the ice. The line consists of three seniors, Nate Stewart, Dylan Columbia ("spelled with a U!"), and Josh Bernier. The three were the most consistent line in the 2010-2011 campaign and hope that it will carry over in their final year as a Falcon.
Roy is also confident that scoring can come from any line at any time.
"We have a go to guy in every group that is going to take the ice. We have a group of seniors that have played together for a while (the Squirrel Line), I think Adam Viens and Cody Halikas are going to contribute as well as a couple of the new guys Ryan Paul and Ross DeLaBruere have already shown a lot of ability, so I think we've got goal scorers on every line."
Viens, after missing all but one game this fall in soccer, is healthy and said at practice this week that he is ready to go.
I have covered the physical aspects of the team, but one would be remiss if he did not talk about the mental side of the game.
When the chips were down, or maybe things were not going the right way, you could see North Country lose focus on a frequent basis and start either head hunting, taking stupid penalties (like the one that resulted in the game winning goal against Essex on a 5-3), or basically just melting down.
Says Fournier about what the team is doing to police themselves,"A lot of us are taking steps as players to control each other and to monitor each other.
"All of us know that that (the cheap stuff) is unacceptable. Every once in a while someone will get out of line, but we try to deal with it as a team and let him know that it is not going to happen any more. Most of the time we will deal with it, but if we can't, the coaching staff will help us out."
What Fournier says is a positive thing to hear from a player, and is definitely the words that a leader would say, as it seems that the Falcons are very aware that last years follies can not happen again if the team wishes to compete with the elite of the Metro division.
Speaking of the Metro, North Country will head over to Burlington on Friday for the Burchard tournament and they get the pleasure of facing CVU right off the bat at 8:10.
They will open up their home schedule next Wednesday when BFA St. Albans rolls into town, which if last year is any indication, will be the largest crowd of the season at the Ice Haus.
Except for maybe one other game.
When Essex comes to town.
See you at the rink.