Last year, Andy Heinze faced a new league and a new team. This time around the long-time head coach of the Valley Jr Warriors is looking forward to some familiarity.
Heading into the team’s second season in the Eastern Hockey League, the Warriors welcome back an experienced corps of defensemen and forwards and three-time coach of the year understands the importance of a strong nucleus of players.
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“The biggest thing is that you have kids who know what is expected of them whether it is on or off the ice,” said Heinze. “They understand the routine and the systems and just being a year older and stronger makes a big difference.”
Returning for a third year is Andrew McAvoy (Mechanicsville, NY) who played in 39 games for the Warriors last season. He will be joined along the blueline by Justin Dewitz (Oronoco, MN), Hunter Wilhoite (Brentwood, TN) and Rudolfs Kalvitis (Riga, Latvia) who combined for 114 EHL games last season.
“When you have that experience and mix in a few talented newcomers it makes for an easier transition,” said Heinze, who – among others – will welcome NA3HL talent Ben Lau (Prospect, KY) and Jack Williams (Suffield, CT) to the D lineup this season. “And then as we go along and hit some tough patches, the experience helps because those players can help the younger guys along.”
Offensive firepower will come from five strong returners in Troy Sutherland (Vancouver, BC), Van Sullivan (Brentwood, TN), Brendan Heinze (Danville, NH), Kris Holmes (Newburyport, MA) and Will Platt (San Fransisco, CA) as well as Mike McWeeney (Lexington, MA) who played last season with the Junior B team in the Metropolitan Hockey League.
“We will see who comes around and builds off of last season,” said Heinze. “We have kids who can find the net, but it will be about how consistent they can be.”
Heinze will look for contributions from newcomer Austin O’Rourke (White, GA). The son of NHL Referee Dan O’Rourke, Austin spent the summer training in Toronto.
“Austin got into a good fitness program and nutrition to pick up foot speed and he leaned out and had a good season,” said Heinze. “We will have to have more patience with him, but he could be an impact guy.”
Fighting for the starting position in net will be Central Catholic standout and Colin Soucy (North Andover, MA) and Nick Desimone (PA), who is coming off a stellar season for Loomis-Chaffee.
“The season is a grind and the kids have to put their best foot forward to be successful,” said Heinze, whose team upset the third-seeded Connecticut Oilers in the first round of 2014 EHL Playoffs. “The returners have more confidence in themselves, so now the key will be how quickly the younger guys can get up to speed. We have a better handle on the character of the kids coming in and we were a little more selective. This should help to build off our good finish last year."
The VJW Junior A team kicks off the 2014-15 season on Sunday, September 21 against the East Coast Wizards. The game will take place at the Haverhill Valley Forum beginning at 12:05 p.m. Any player who comes to the game in their VJW jersey will receive free admission, so come cheer the Warriors on!!