Rockland, Ont. —
The Rockland Nationals will take the ice in 36 days, and head coach/general manager Dan Sauve is determined to ice a team capable not just of competing, but contending in the relocated team’s debut campaign.
Sauve, 28, is the youngest person in the CCHL to hold either title and faces a unique first-year challenge: The Nationals are going to have serious roster turnover, and many around the league are curious to see what Rockland will look like come opening day on Sept. 2.
“It’s a great league with a lot of good organizations and people, (but) our goal is playoffs,” said Sauve, who excelled as an offensive defenceman in the league from 2007 to 2010. “One of the reasons we’re moving to Rockland is to bring the fan base in (and) get the community onboard — we need to make the playoffs.”
The recruitment process in Rockland, where the team will play out of the beautiful CIH Arena, has been made easier for Sauve by the team’s ownership group.
“There are a lot of selling points for players — the change of culture, ownership, (a) new city that’s excited about having a junior-A team back, the staff,” listed Sauve, who was previously an assistant coach with the Ottawa Jr. Senators. “The owners have been working to make sure the room is ready, the rink is ready, (and) sponsors are onboard. Kids here are going to be well looked-after.”
The league’s youngest head coach is trying to build a culture similar to the one that exists in Ottawa, where the Jr. Sens are perennial contenders.
“The biggest thing I brought out of my experience with Ottawa is the culture that you have to create in a hockey team,” said Sauve. “Every year you have a different type of lineup, but if you create that same culture every year, you’re going to have success — I’m going to try and establish that in Rockland.”
The Nats will return a number of key players from the Gloucester team that went a respectable 21-28-4 following Sauve’s hiring on Sept. 27, 2016.
“We’ve got some players that we expect to come back and help us big time this year,” explained Sauve. “Cole Lavoie, Drew Shields and Simon Houle, plus a couple returning players (like) Jahwara Rennalls and Mike McArthur (from) before I got there with new ownership.”
McArthur could have a big role to play as a 20-year-old forward; the St. Thomas, Ont. native finished second on the Rangers last season in points (32) despite only appearing in 39 games.
With plenty of roster spots to fill, the Nats will open camp on Aug. 19 with a plethora of free-agent signings and fierce competition.
“With a lot of free agents coming, we want to get them on the ice and getting game experience during the pre-season,” said Sauve, whose team will play five exhibition games against Ottawa (twice), Cumberland and Hawkesbury (twice).
Rockland will open its 2017-18 season on Sept. 2 against the Kanata Lasers at the Bell Sensplex as part of the CCHL Labour Day Showcase. The Nationals home opener will then take place on Fri. Sept. 8, when they’ll host the Cumberland Grads at 7:30 p.m..
To stay up-to-date on all things Rockland Nationals, follow the team on Twitter and Instagram @RocklandNatsJrA.