Normally when you lose more than 75 percent of players in one year, a coach will be nervous. Not this year and not this coach. On the contrary, Andy Heinze is energized about his Valley Jr. Warriors Junior A squad as they eye the start of the 2008-09 season. “Every year presents a new challenge for our coaching staff,” explains Heinze, a former Merrimack College standout and two-time EJHL Coach of the Year. “While we miss those players who move on, we embrace the challenges and excitement of grooming a whole new corps of young players.” Following last year’s 18-23-3 finish and EJHL playoff run, the team sent eight of its players – Brian Albert, Pat Beckwith, Mike Doherty, Mike Fransen, Jordan Gauvin, Josh Weiner, Matt Whitney and ChrisWyman – to top collegiate establishments across the region. The natural matriculation of players to college and prep schools during the off season left Coach Heinze with three returning players and many holes to fill. Undaunted by the challenge of piecing together a new team, Heinze took the to road and recruited a new corps of players who were committed to the Warriors mission which is to develop strong and sound students of both the game of hockey and the world of academics. To wit, the Valley Jr. Warriors have been recognized regionally for nurturing young players into outstanding student athletes. One of the critical elements of Heinze’s job this past season was to compliment the four outstanding players who were returning to Haverhill this season – Jay Nichols, Eric Ward, Chris Wilcox and Eric Peterson. “Having a talented, hard-working group of kids returning makes my job easier,” said Heinze. “Their experience in the league will help bring the younger players along quicker and will make our transition into the heart of the season that much smoother.” While the other EJHL teams find themselves in the same situation, the Warriors will be well served offensively by forwards such as Peterson, Ward and Nichols. Peterson, a Newton, New Hampshire resident who spent a short time on the Junior B team last season, made an immediate impact on Heinze’s team and found himself consistently playing on the first and second lines by season’s end. “Eric has a tremendous work ethic and his game is based on consistency,” said Heinze of the 5-9, 170-pound forward. “He will no doubt provide offensive production for us which could potentially lead him to all-star recognition come mid-season.” Last season, Peterson finished eighth on the team in scoring by posting 9 goals and 11 assists in 34 games played. Three of those goals came on the power play and one was a game winner in February against the Boston Shamrocks. Showing that he can be counted on when it counts, Peterson was a dominant player for the Warriors in mid-January when the team was making a run for the playoffs. In a key weekend series against the Green Mountain Glades, Peterson scored three goals, including a two-goal outburst which propelled his team to victory. Nichols and Ward will also be looked on to provide stability up front. Ward is a second-year man who is a physical player on both ends of the ice. “Eric should be one of the power forwards to watch this season,” said Heinze. “He has a really effective release on his shot which surprises a lot of opponents and gives him a real offensive edge.” The Haverhill native who stands at 6-0 and 190 pounds, finished with 8 goals and 3 assists last year and will provide true leadership to the squad. Nichols – like Peterson – is another Junior B product who flourished during his 10 games with Heinze’s team last year. “The maturity that Nichols showed during the final stage of the season was remarkable,” said Heinze. “He is a good skater with unlimited potential in terms of offensive production. We are confident that he will continue to grow this year when he takes a permanent spot on our roster.” Nichols is a former Masconomet High School standout who was the Chieftains second-leading scorer in 2006-07. In his 32 games with the Warriors Junior B team, he collected 11 goals and 9 assists! Defensively, the team could not ask for a more seasoned and poised blueliner than Chris Wilcox. A 2007-08 EJHL All-Star player, Wilcox played in a team-high 45 games and collected 3 goals and 14 assists. More importantly than statistics, Wilcox was one of the most reliable defensemen for Heinze who saw action on special teams. “We are fortunate to welcome Chris back because he is a tremendous skater and a good stick handler who can provide offensive support,” said Heinze of the 6-2, 185-pound blueliner from Hollywood, Florida. “He will be a dominant transition player out of his own end and will surely find his way to the All-Star team for the second year in a row.” Those four players will have huge shoes to fill. They will not only have to elevate their own games, but they will be looked upon to bring the newcomers along. In the coming weeks, we will be posting a story featuring the newcomers to the Junior A team including Bixby, Oklahoma standout Mark Jackson and European sensation Peter Kressner. All in all, it looks like it will be a VJW season to remember!