Fans of local Junior B hockey will get their first chance to see the newly formed Valley Maple Leafs in action this weekend.
The home opener for the Leafs is this Friday, Sept. 21, in Berwick against the Glace Bay Junior Miners at 8 p.m. They will follow that up by hosting the Pictou County Scotians at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22, in Kentville.
Andy Woolaver, the team's governor, said he hopes fans from Hants County and throughout the Valley will come out to support the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League expansion team.
“Junior B, as you know, is the highest level of hockey you're going to see here, short of the university (level). It should be really good hockey,” said Woolaver.
“The other main factor, and I think why the public are interested, is that we have a lot of local talent. So they're going to see people that they've watched playing locally for years as they progressed through minor hockey,” he added.
As of Sept. 16, Woolaver said at least 14 players had been signed to the Valley Maple Leafs, including eight from Hants, Kings and Annapolis counties. Several of the guys making the cut are also former Windsor Royals, since that team is taking a one-year hiatus.
“We're going to have quite a good local contingent,” said Woolaver. “I think that will be good for the area, good for the kids. (It'll) give them a chance to play and not try out or play at a different level.”
On the most recent roster are local guys Colin Gillis (Middleton), David Hayes (Delhaven — Royals), Jeff Longaphy (Kentville — Royals), Mark Swain (Ardoise — Royals), Coleman Ueffing (Kentville), Jake Galbraith (Mount Uniacke — Royals), Leigh Benjamin (Canning) and Dylan Lowthers (Brooklyn). Also on the roster are Jory Uhlman (Royals), Luke Short (Royals), Nathan Little (Royals), Joe MacDougall (Royals), Austin Himmelman (Royals) and Craig Anderson.
“I've only been to the first practice, but I was shocked. These guys are fast, big — I think it's going to be really exciting hockey. We've got some good announcers lined up to enhance the experience, and I think it's great,” he said.
The Valley Maple Leafs entered training camp at the beginning of the month. Woolaver said 37 guys tried out for the team, which they whittled down to 25. As of the weekend, they were still looking to add a few more guys to the roster.
The Valley Maple Leafs' coaching staff also has Royals connections. The head coach is Josh Dill, who led the Royals last year, and the assistant coaches are Rob Lindsay (also there last year) and Erik Jackaman, who was the captain of the 2011-12 Royals. Tyler Whynot, a goaltender for the Royals for the past two seasons, is a goaltender coach with the Valley Maple Leafs this season.
Other upcoming home games in Berwick include Oct. 5 (versus the Eastern Shore Jr. Mariners) and Oct. 6 (against the Antigonish Bulldogs).
Also in October, they will take the ice in Kentville for three home games: Oct. 13, Oct. 20 and Oct. 27.