2019-20 PJHL Pollock Division Season Preview: Mount Forest Patriots
With another title on the shelf, it was a pretty good year once again to be a Mount Forest Patriot.
For the third year in a row, Mount Forest claimed the Pollock Division title after a gritty 6 game battle with Wingham. It wasn’t easy, as the Patriots had to get contributions up and down the lineup, with a couple unlikely heroes along the way, and switched starting goalies partway through the series. The Patriots once again look to be an elite team, and even though they’ve lost some high octane weapons, GM Rob Nixon made sure the Pats still had a great returning cast of winners, mixed with some exciting new additions. Can Mount Forest go for 4?
On offense, the Pats will be led by diminutive puck wizard Riley Cribben, who rejoined the squad partway through the season after a short stint out west. Cribben was his usual dynamic self, putting up 19 points in 11 games before really going off in the playoffs. He’s as slippery as they come and create something out of nothing. He won’t have running mate Klayton Hoelscher, though, as the captain and leading scorer (56 points) aged out. But, the good news is his replacement at captain is a Pats veteran who knows how to do all the little things to urge his team to victory. Michael Stefanelli will take over the “C”, and his 52 points last year should see a bump as the Pats make him the guy in all situations. Stefanelli is extremely useful in every scenario, and more power play time as the number one target will see him bank a few more points. Net crasher Jack Birkett is back as well (43 points) and he will continue to bother opposing goalies at the top of the crease and create chances off the fore check. Number 2 centre Troy Weber returns to give the Pats very enviable depth down the middle after a 40 point campaign. Weber also showed clutch genes the last couple playoff runs, scoring big goals at key times while being very defensively sound. GM Rob Nixon says he has high hopes for youngsters Owen Rahn (8 points last year) and rookie Luke Eurig, a local product who can really skate. Other young guys who will have increased roles include Parker Miller (20 points) and Michael Anselmini (14 points), who both showed in the playoffs they can contribute with more ice time. The Patriots are going to have a stacked lineup on offense, a year after finishing second in goal scoring (186) behind only Wingham.
The Pats will also return a great defense core, however, that core won’t include dynamic offensive D-man Thomas Haffner, who scored 39 points in 38 games and ran the power play. Haffner was dealt to the Tavistock Braves, with the assertion that he wished to be closer to home for his last season. While the Pats will certainly miss him, they will have the benefit of bringing back ultra-versatile Derek Williams (11 points), who actually played centre for a chunk of last year before Cribbin came back. If a big piece up front gets hurt, the Pats know they have some flexibility there. For now, Williams will be the go-to guy on the penalty kill, and will play against the opposition’s best players in a shutdown role. He can also blast it and contribute on the man advantage after playing well as a forward. Chet Phillips also returns to solidify the top pair (17 points) and provide leadership, and Nixon says he will get more chances to contribute offensively. Thomas Coulter is back (11 points) and he has the chance to be a power play fixture. New faces include Drayton youngster Peyton McIsaac, who Nixon thinks can provide puck rushing and offensive punch, as well as youngster Riley Torrie, who played 21 games last year but will get a bigger role potentially, as well. Nathan Bolger (10 points) can also factor in, after getting more responsibility down the stretch and in the playoffs. Mount Forest have loads of options on the back end, and there’s no reason to assume they allow tons more goals than last year after they were second best in goals against (120 allowed) behind, yet again, Wingham.
In goal, Mount Forest will give the full-time reins to last year’s playoff hero, youngster Aidan Quish, who took over as the starter after David Lobsinger struggled the first two games in the final against Wingham. Quish took the ball and ran with it, playing very well as he helped eliminate Wingham, and then continued his strong play against Alliston. In 16 appearances last year, Quish went 14-1-0 with a shutout, a 3.13 GAA and .900 save percentage. With a big, solid frame and extremely solid rebound control and shot recovery, Quish should see those numbers spike after gaining confidence in high pressure playoff games last year. The Pats know they once again have a legit number one in the blue paint. His backup could potentially be one of Connor Toogood (great name), or Mason Tomeka, who Nixon says were pretty neck-and-neck in their pre-season appearances. Nothing wrong with some competition in the crease.
The Patriots have become a dynasty, and there is definitely the possibility Mount Forest could make it 4 in a row. After suffering through a 21-year drought, the Pats are now kings of the Pollock Division. How long that lasts will depend on steady performances from the veterans, and how well the young players integrate into an environment that expects to win. The Patriots kick off their season Friday night at 8 in Wingham for a rematch with the hungry Ironmen. What a way to start the year. For more on the Patriots season, here is the full interview with GM Rob Nixon below: