The London Nationals have helped ease the pain of last spring with another quick start.
In the response to their Sutherland Cup Game 7 overtime loss to Waterloo, the local Junior B entry has opened with four straight victories to vault to the top of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League standings.
“We’ve had a lot of different looks to our lineup so far,” Nats GM/coach Pat Powers said. “We had (nine) players at major junior camp and three who went to Western (University) camp. We’ve had injuries and suspensions. You look at our top six (forwards), the most we’ve had at one time has been two or three.
“It’s an early test to the season.”
One reason for the scorching first step has been the play of Cal Davis, the returning Western Conference player of the year. He already has six goals and 11 points, including a hat trick Sunday in Chatham. The Western student spent the summer playing high-level lacrosse back home in Peterborough.
“He considered playing lacrosse at Western (this fall),” Powers said. “He’s quite active in the sport and sometimes, when you go through the grind of a long season that we did last year, it can wear on you. You need to get away. There was a lot of disappointment at the end (in losing), but Cal came back and was happy.
“He’s been awesome for us. You can tell he has something to prove from a team standpoint and wants to play university hockey next year, so this is a big season for him.”
His production was expected. But London’s new players haven’t looked like rookies at all.
Jacob Chantler and Michael McKnight, part of Dave Warren’s talented Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs midgets, have adjusted in a hurry to the junior hockey ranks. Logan Mailloux, the Knights’ second rounder, and Nathan Small have been real nice surprises on the back end while drawing prime ice time and assignments.
The goaltending, in particular, has been strong between 18-year-old Exeter native Devyn Clark and ex-Chief Bryce Walcarius, a 17-year-old from Aylmer.
“It really was an unknown thing coming in,” Powers said. “We knew they were good at the levels they played at, but when you come to Junior B, it’s a bit of a different animal. Devyn was outstanding in LaSalle to help keep us in until we could pull away and in Chatham, Bryce was very steady.
Clark has stopped 36 of 37 shots he’s faced this season. Together, they have allowed just four goals.
The biggest test so far, interestingly enough, will come in the home opener against St. Marys Wednesday, 7 p.m. at Western Fair. The Lincolns were the only team in the league to miss the playoffs last year, but they’re unbeaten, too.
The Nationals will be missing fifth-year forward Max Vinogradov, suspended a game for fighting in Chatham. And don’t expect Michael Boushy, Josh LeBlanc or Evan Ilkos to be ready, either.
“St. Marys has a very deep team,” Powers said. “The growing pains they’ve gone through the past couple of years, you’re going to see it pay dividends for them. It’ll be a real tough game.”
The Lincs, like everyone else, will face a motivated crew.
“We only have five guys back from last year,” Powers said, “and they know how close they were and how good of a team we had this year. We want them to send the message to not take anything for granted so we’re at our best come February.”