The start of the junior hockey season is always an adventure. After all, what else would you expect when your team is comprised of 80% new faces!
That is what Valley Jr. Warriors head coach Andy Heinze faces, but he is certainly not shying away from the challenge. In fact, the former EJHL Coach of the Year revels in the opportunity.
“It’s always a new challenge each season,” said Heinze, a two-time EJHL Coach of the Year. “There is so much potential and I look forward to seeing how this young team grows and responds to our system." (Story continues below.)
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Heinze is coming off a 2008-09 season in which he saw his team struggle to come together and put all of the pieces together. While frustrating to end up with a 12-25-3 record and miss the playoffs, Heinze knows that the key to this season is to build on the many lessons learned over the past year.
“We were so close and couldn’t get over the hump,” said Heinze, a former coach at Merrimack College. “We weren’t able to do the little things and achieve the level of consistency that it takes to win in this league. Some days it was giving the puck away or giving up a weak goal. We took points from nearly every team in the league, but we couldn’t do it on a consistent basis."
Heinze’s coaching resume speaks volumes about his unique ability to connect with players and help them raise the level of their games and succeed at the next level. Over the past decade the program has placed more than 120 alumni in various Division I and Division III college programs. Heinze sees that trend continuing with this new corps of players.
“I like this group out of the gate,” said Heinze, who captained the 1989-90 Merrimack College team and holds the school record for most games played (144) and currently ranks 10th on Merrimack’s all-time scoring list with 77 goals and 89 assists. “I have faith that these kids will do a good job, will get at it and will work hard. They have an understanding of how all of the moving parts work together and have a strong overall hockey sense.”
One of the key changes that Heinze made this season was his entry into the Woodchuck Classic, which is being hosted in Burlington (VT) this weekend. His team will board a bus and take part in this pre-season tournament which features 20 Junior A teams from leagues across the country.
“It will be a good way for us to find out what we have,” said Heinze. “It will also be good to start the season on the road and to get these guys comfortable with each other both on and off the ice.”
The first game of the season will be against the Ontario-based Georgetown Raiders.
“We want to implement our systems early,” said Heinze. “We want them to play our style early and continue that progress. We want to keep our goals against down and improve on our special teams. Special teams are important anytime you are in close games, so we understand that strong power play and penalty kill units typically lead to success.”
One benefit that Heinze will rely on when trying to implement his systems is the fact that the team will enjoy the services of players who have played in the VJW system. As general manager of the Valley Jr Warriors organization, Heinze plays a key role in the development of all coaches from the mite through the junior levels.
Team members who have VJW experience include Jay Nichols (Middleton, MA), Matt Ronan (Woburn, MA), Chris Cowles (Georgtown, MA) and Riki Retelle (Andover, MA).
“We always look for guys who play solid hockey in all three zones,” said Heinze. “We will be better defensively and with Jeff Wyer [see below] in net… that will give us more of an opportunity to win those close games.”
If there was one place where the VJW will enjoy experience it would be at the forward position. The Warriors welcome back three key offensive threats – Mark Jackson (Bixby, OK), Jay Nichols (Middleton, MA) and Derek McCoy (Newburyport, MA). All three players will be looked upon to anchor the young squad.
“We only have three returning players who are all forwards,” said Heinze. “Offensively we can’t point to one or two players who will carry the load, but we know that we will have contributions from several lines which will benefit us greatly in the long run.”
Leading the way will no doubt be Jackson, a nationally-regarded right winger who finished fifth on the team in scoring last season with 12 goals and 13 assists. Perhaps more important than his statistics was the fact that the 19 year old competed in 39 games and gained valuable junior-level experience.
“He plays an up tempo, aggressive style and is very physical for his size,” said Heinze of the 5’8”, 175 pound Jackson who focused on improving his shot – among other skills – during the off season. “I think that he learned a lot about timing and spacing last season. His overall strength has been improved because of the time he has spent in the weight room. He has grown a bit since last year and that will only help him this season.”
Nichols is the only other player on this year’s squad who enjoyed a full season of EJHL play as he competed in 31 games and posted 10 points for the Warriors.
“Jay really improved as the season went along,” said Heinze. “He needs to play with more of an edge and with more intensity and consistency. That is something he learned last season.”
Adding size to the lineup will be Bryan Glynn (New Prague, MN) and Regan MacLean (Concord, MA).
“They will bring some offensive ability to the lineup,” said Heinze. “They are two physically strong guys who will add to not only our scoring ability but to our physical strength up front.”
Also bringing with them a proven track record of scoring success are Chris Cowles (Georgtown, MA), Anton Bernard (Kaltern, Italy) and Matt Ronan (Woburn, MA), a standout player from Belmont Hill and a product of the VJW system.
Other forwards looking to play a role this season are Roy Monson (Stoneham, MA), Pat Mahoney (Duluth, MN), Trevor Wight (Portage, MI), Dave Chiaradonna (Stoneham, MA), AJ Chua (Brentwood, NH), and Taylor Juneau (Chazy, NY).
The list of newcomers is long and full of potential. Zach Sarig (Reading, PA) was a key part of the Philadelphia Flyers U-18 AAA team that advanced to Nationals last year.
Sarig, who turns 19 later this winter, has been on the radar screen of NHL scouts for years and was recently drafted in the 16th round of the 2009 USHL Entry Draft. During the 2008-09 season, Sarig registered 11 goals and 5 assists in 21 games as a captain for his Wilson High School team and also netted 3 goals and 13 assists in 15 games for the Philadelphia Jr Flyers.
“He is a strong, tough defenseman with a cannon for a shot,” said Heinze of Sarig who brings size to the lineup as he stands at 6’3” and 215 pounds. “He shoots the one-timer well and may have one of the best shots in the league. We may use him on power plays because of his shooting ability.”
Tom Kader (North Reading, MA) is another outstanding addition who is coming off a strong season at Tabor Academy where his squad finished with a 15-6-4 record and just missed making the playoffs. The team posted a 13-2-1 record since January 4 and went undefeated during the month of February by winning the last nine games of the season. Kader is looking to use that impressive season as a springboard to success on the junior hockey stage.
“He is going to be a very important part of our success.” said Heinze. “He is a great kid and really wants to learn and to be coached. He wants to get as much as he can out of junior hockey. “
College coaches have already taken notice of Kader who received an offer to play hockey at West Point. Kader made the difficult decision to pass on the offer in order to play for the Warriors.
“He has all the tools to be a Division 1 player,” said Heinze. “He needs to play more consistently and get more consistent feedback on how he is playing. He is a good skater who is strong on the puck and who outlets the puck very well. There is no question that he is going to be a great addition to our program.”
Other key defensemen this season will be Sam Smith (Flower Mound, TX), Kyle McElroy (Newburyport, MA), Riki Retelle (Andover, MA), Zach Bradanick (Salem, NH), Brett Mason (Rowley, MA), Chris Pope (Newfields, NH) and Trevor Nelson (Exeter, NH).
This year’s team will receive a boost in net as they welcome Jeff Wyer (Reading, MA) to the blue and gold. Wyer, a Reading native, is coming off another impressive season between the pipes for Reading High School. He was named to the Boston Globe’s Super Eight Team following a senior campaign in which he finished with a .932 save percentage and 1.50 goals against average.
“He is a really good athlete,” said Heinze, who noted that Wyer is also a standout baseball player for Reading High School. “He is more than just a one-sport athlete and what he is doing [excelling at two sports] is an example of his athletic ability and his commitment to the school.”
Two years ago – as a junior – Wyer backstopped his Reading hockey team to a historic performance as the Rockets became the first public high school to win the Massachusetts Division 1A Super 8 Tournament. During that season, Wyer posted nine shutouts and allowed 34 goals in 23 games for a 1.48 goals against average.
Wyer will vie for playing time with two other netminders in Nick Betti (Barnstable, MA), a former member for Tabor Academy ice hockey team, and Glenn Gayet (Boonton. NJ).
The Valley Jr Warriors boast one of the most experienced coaching staffs in the league. Led by Heinze, who manages all aspects of the program as a general manager and head coach, the Warrior players receive support from two assistant coaches – Bob Carpenter and Mike Holubowich.
Carpenter, who was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, joined the VJW staff in 2006 following a celebrated NHL playing and coaching career. The Peabody native played 1,318 NHL games, scoring 341 goals and 446 assists for 787 points. Carpenter also captured three Stanley Cups (1995, '00, '03) while playing for New Jersey Devils. Following his playing career, he served as assistant coach of the New Jersey Devils and head coach of the AHL Albany River Rats.
Holubowich, who also serves as head coach of the 2009 State Champion VJW U-16 Squad, manages the VJW skills program and has worked for more than 16 years as an instructor with the Paul Vincent Dynamic Skating Program.
In addition to the coaching staff, the team is assisted on a daily basis by Fred Devereaux, the VJW director of player development and long-time scout for the Calgary Flames, and Eric Kaloyanides, who oversees all the team’s strength training program.