No one can say that the start of the season has been dull.
Quite the contrary! Through the Valley Jr Warriors' first eight games, the Junior A team has amassed a 2-2-2-2 record with four of those games going into overtime periods. With only four returning players, Head Coach Andy Heinze knew that this season would be a challenge and a roller coaster. His predictions have certainly come through thus far.
“There have been some growing pains for sure,” noted Heinze, a two-time EJHL Coach of the Year, “But our players have had a consistent effort and we are pleased with how they are working hard to play our style of hockey.”
Following an opening-season loss against the Monarchs, the Warriors went on to post two ties and one loss in three straight overtime games! In the team’s second game of the season, the Warriors found themselves trailing 1-0 with time running out on the clock. It was then when rookie standout Nick Marquis(Londonderry, NH) collected a pass from linemate Mark Jackson(Bixby, OK) and buried a goal with just four seconds left on the clock to force overtime.
Later that evening, Marquis played the role of hero once again as he posted the game-tying goal with 1:30 left against the CD Selects to secure a critical point in that 3-3 decision. One day later, the team rallied with seconds ticking off the clock to tie the game against the NJ Hitmen and force an overtime period. Although the Warriors were unable to secure a victory against the league-leading Hitmen, Heinze was impressed with his team’s ability to deliver when it counts.
“We have had some timely scoring and our players have shown that they can perform with their backs against the wall,” explained Heinze. “In two games we tied the score with four seconds left on the clock. We need to be more consistent, but we have depth up front and the ability to score. We just need to eliminate our mistakes.”
Marquis was certainly a catalyst during that four-game stretch as he registered two goals and one assist. Marquis is joined by Jackson and Jordan Sims(Fort Wayne, IN) as that line has proven to be one of the most consistent on the Warriors squad. If you ask Coach Heinze if he is surprised by Marquis’ strong start, he quickly responds with a “no” as he knew that he would have to rely on his young player’s ability this season.
“Nick is a solid two-way player who has the vision and understanding of how the moving pieces work out there,” says Heinze about the 5-7, 160-pound Marquis, who also posted two goals in the team’s 3-0 win over the Falcons. “He is able to play in all situations effectively, and he is a tough kid who sticks his nose in there with limited size.”
Heinze knows a little bit about being tenacious without the benefit of towering height. After all, the Warriors coach and general manager captained the Merrimack College team from 1989-90 and still holds the record for most games played (144) and ranks 10th on Merrimack’s all-time scoring list with 77 goals and 89 assists.
During his playing days, Heinze would have been happy to have linemates in players like Jackson and Sims. Both players were highly touted coming into this season and have lived up to their top billing. Jackson has played through a nagging injury and will no doubt increase his offensive production as the season wears on.
The young players have been fortunate to have four strong returners on hand to provide much-needed experience and poise. Eric Peterson(Newton, NH) has shouldered the burden offensively as he currently leads the team with three goals and three assists.
Last weekend, Peterson was the team’s top scorer with three points in two games. After posting his team’s third goal against the Falcons, Peterson responded with one goal and one assist in a 5-4 overtime loss to Syracuse the following day.
“Eric has the junior experience and is able to beat people to the puck,” said Heinze. “He understands all facets of the game and he knows our system. He is very effective in all areas and is reliable, tough and always gives us a consistent effort.”
Peterson and his fellow returning teammates - Chris Wilcox(Hollywood, FL), Eric Ward(Haverhill, MA) and Jay Nicholls(Middleton, MA) - dedicated themselves to intense off season training in order to be prepared for this season. Wilcox has been forced to spearhead a defensive corps that was playing with just five players. The recent addition of Calvin Reed(Lapeer, MA) will give Heinze a solid rotation of six blueliners.
“Our defense has been shorthanded but Chris has really stepped up his game” said Heinze of the 6-2, 182-pound Wilcox who quarterbacks the Warriors powerplay. “He is a talented player with a high level of skill. He has been trying to do a little too much and trying to find that perfect pass instead of taking what is given. He understands that and will change it over the next few weeks.”
With the heart of the season staring the team in the face, Heinze knows that his team will need consistent effort in order to keep pace with a talented EJHL league.
“On any given night, any team can win,” explains Heinze. “The Shamrocks struggled last year and already have three wins against good teams. It just shows that you have to be ready to compete every single night. We haven’t blown anyone out, but then again no one has blown us out. It’s a very competitive league this year.”
Many of those EJHL programs will be on display at the Haverhill Valley Forum beginning on November 6. During a four-day period, the Warriors will play host to the Annual Warrior Classic. In addition to EJHL powerhouses, the tournament will also feature a handful of quality Empire and Independent League teams.
“We always look forward to the Warrior Classic,” said Heinze. It not only gives our players a chance to showcase themselves in front of top college coaches and professional scouts, it also allows us to play in our own building against some of the top talent this region has to offer.”
Spectators are welcome to attend the Warrior Classic throughout the four-day event. If they come, they will certainly see a VJW team that is busting with talent and appears on the edge of breaking through in league play.
If nothing else, it will certainly not be dull. That just doesn’t suit Andy Heinze and his talented corps of Warriors players.