Brantford 99ers show off youth in win

By Brian Smiley, Brantford Expositor

If Thursday night was any indication, the Brantford 99ers are totally committed to going young as they rebuild their junior B hockey roster.

Hosting Cambridge in the first exhibition game of the 2015-16 Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League Mid-Western Conference season, an extremely young lineup of 99ers scored a 4-3 overtime win against the Winter Hawks at the Gretzky Centre.

And while young is one attribute Brantford is looking for in its players, there's another important factor the team will use when selecting the final few spots on its roster.

"I think everybody in this group needs that," head coach Scott Rex said of the fresh start the team is making as it began training camp this week.

"We know we're going to be young. We're going to go young and hungry."

In its first two seasons in the league, Brantford failed to make the playoffs and obviously that will be the No. 1 goal for the upcoming campaign.

Because past players couldn't push the 99ers over the hump and into the post-season, the decision was made to keep a few key veterans and then bring in younger players who will be hungry to show well.

With that in mind, Rex wasn't even sure how many players the team is currently looking at.

"It's all moving parts," said the coach, noting that players come and go as they try out with other teams and then are released.

On Thursday, Brantford's brass made some tough decisions in releasing some of the youngest players at camp. While executives with the team feel that some of the players will one day be ready, with league limits on how many underage players a team can carry, the 99ers released some of those youngsters so they could move on with their plans for the upcoming season.

"We've got some underage kids. We have to get rid of most of them because they're not going to make it no matter what they do," said Rex.

"We wanted to get them a game. They're going to be junior B hockey players but for the underage players, the rules work against them."

The start of Thursday's exhibition game was typical of most early pre-season contests.

"It was awful," said Rex. "There wasn't a pass completed (in the first period). The second period was different. The kids kind of got their feet under them."

One issue that can't be resolved in the pre-season is the fact players are playing with different players than they're used to and the coaching staff is mixing up lines to see how everyone works together.

"It is hard," said Rex, a former junior B standout, Ohio State University graduate and professional player who went through the same thing. "It's a rite of passage. It's something you have to go through. Your first exhibition game, I hope there are always butterflies for these guys every year, at every level when you start with a brand new setup."

After a scoreless first period, Brantford fell behind 2-0 early in the second before getting on track.

Following a goal from Brantford Minor Hockey Association graduate Sampson Scholten at 9:26, former Hamilton Huskies player and London Knights prospect Marc Shannon tied things up with a goal at 10:12.

Daniel Mastai, Connor McKay and Justin Vandendool drew the assists.

Cambridge then scored an early third-period goal before Shannon - from Isaac Nurse - scored the equalizer at 5:41.

The game then went to overtime when Nurse - a Huskies forward who was drafted by the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs - scored the winner at 4:10.

Shannon and Powell drew assists while Cam Gratton earned the win in goal.

Nurse is a cousin to Edmonton Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse and Canadian women's basketball star, Kia Nurse. His uncle is former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb and his sister, Sarah, attends the University of Wisconsin and is in the talent pool for the Canadian women's team.

"There were some Hamilton kids who really showed well as the game went on," said Rex. "That's who won the game for us at the end but they're guys who are familiar with each other so they were coming in with a bit of an advantage.

"Their chemistry was notable because they all played together."

With just a couple of spots on defence and possibly three positions on forward up for grabs, the 99es will get two looks at players this weekend when they travel to Cambridge for an 8:30 p.m. game on Saturday and then go to Kitchener on Sunday for a 1:30 p.m. contest.

One thing Rex would like to see is the team holding on to the puck a little more.

"We're trying to bang down on the turnovers, like giving pucks away for no reason," he said. "That's a minor hockey habit.

"You've seen it for two years. We turn the puck over, it's in our net. You do it against the better teams and you're punished every time."


- Brantford opens its regular season with two road games - on Sept. 11 against St. Marys at 7:30 p.m. and on Sept. 13 against Niagara Falls at 4:30 p.m., both at Western Fairgrounds in London. The 99ers then begin their home season on Sept. 17 with a 7:30 p.m. game against the Waterloo Siskins at the Gretzky Centre.

- While the crowd in Rink 3 at the Gretzky Centre was solid in terms of numbers on Thursday, the quality was there as well. "It was a star studded crowd," Rex noted. "Joe Stefan from Plymouth was here. Keith Gretzky popped his head in. (Zac) Dalpe was here and (Brandon) Montour walked through. It was a great crowd. Everyone is going to talk about it. It's that buzz. It's all new again." Brantford native Stefan is the assistant general manager of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers while Gretzky is the director of amateur scouting for the Boston Bruins. Dalpe, a Paris native, is a member of the NHL's Minnesota Wild and Montour is an AHL player with the affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks.

- The 99ers have brought Chris Pusey on board as an assistant coach. Pusey, a Brantford native, played goal in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings for one game.