The West Nipissing Lynx will make their long-awaited return to the Sturgeon Falls Arena this Saturday, as the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League gets back to action in Ontario following a year-long shutdown due to COVID-19.
The Lynx will host the Témiscaming Titans in their Oct. 2 home opener, where only 100 fans will be allowed in attendance, one of many new restrictions as minor hockey leagues try to adjust to life in the pandemic. But while it won’t be a packed house, the Lynx are still fired up to take the ice in front of the home crowd for the first time in 588 days.
“Welcome back to the fans and we’re excited to come back and be on the ice for you guys,” says captain Chad Lafortune, who returns for his fourth and final year with the team.
West Nipissing held a six-week training camp last fall, waiting for a go-ahead to play that never came. For Lafortune and his fellow teammates, intrasquad scrimmages were the closest thing they had to game action the previous winter.
Having an entire season wiped out by COVID-19 means there’s even more roster turnover for loyal followers to adjust to this fall. Only four players return from the Lynx’s 2019-20 team: Lafortune, forward Chase Kanasawe, defenceman Braden Simon and goalie Cory Richardson.
“There’s definitely a bunch of new faces, but that’s good, we get to come in and everyone gets to kind of mend together,” says Nick Gribbons, a former player who joined the coaching staff last year. “It’s nice to have the four vets to show them the ropes but it’s good to have a new team and get a fresh start really.”
The Lynx have added some other veteran players to the mix as well, like 20-year-old forward Tobias Odjick who played last season for the Campbellton Tigers in the Maritime Junior A Hockey League. But West Nipissing will also be looking for some of their youth to step up and deliver in order for the team to compete for the top of the North Division.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that I think can really pull their weight and that’s not very common in this league,” says Braden Simon. “Usually, your younger guys are substitute players, but we’ve got some young guys that can really give the older guys a run for their money.”