99ers GM Keen on Forwards

99ers open season on Sept. 11 at Gretzky centre

The Brantford 99ers are almost set to begin Season 2 in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Mid-Western Conference.

After missing the 2013-14 playoffs as an expansion team, the 99ers are hoping some experience and upgrades will get them to the post-season for this year’s campaign.

“I think with the group we’re bringing back from last year, they’re the right mix,” said Brantford general manager Mike Spadafora, whose team begins its regular season on Sept. 11 with a 7:30 p.m. game at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre against the Waterloo Siskins.

“They get along and they have the right attitude. Combined with the new guys we’ve brought in, I know we’re going to be a much better hockey team.”

The start of the 99ers’ second campaign got underway back in the spring with a rookie camp and then things really heated up when main camp opened around the middle of August.

Branford has had several sessions on the ice with head coach Scott Rex and his assistants and the team has also played four exhibition games, going 2-2.

With one more exhibition game to go – on Saturday in Waterloo at 4:30 p.m. – the team has signed close to 20 players.

Returnees will include Guy Polillo, Mitch Atkins, Paris Briscoe, Cole Cummings and Ryan Pererria up front and Keegan Alvestad, Anthony VanLooyen and Nathan Ferris on the back end.

There is also a chance that defenceman David Storey, a stalwart for the team last season, will return. Currently he is trying out for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the British Columbia Hockey League.

Atkins will be returning from Waterloo, where he was sent at the trade deadline last year for cash, a future consideration (not yet obtained) and the promise that the Siskins would send him back to Brantford for this season.

During his time as a 99er last year, Atkins formed a potent combination with Polillo and Nathan Bastien. With Bastien now in Mississauga playing for the Ontario Hockey League’s Steelheads, Spadafora feels he’s found a replacement in Ohio product Zander Pryor.

“It was huge for us,” he said of getting Atkins back.

“He’s an all-star. He’s looking to put up some big numbers this year. Him and Polillo were great together.

“Obviously (Nathan) Bastien was there but I think we’ve found a pretty good replacement for Nathan Bastien.

“(Pryor is) highly skilled. His skill set is through the roof. He’s a powerful skater and his work ethic and compete level is through the roof.”

With nifty hands and some great speed, Pryor will fit in nicely with Atkins and Polillo, said Spadafora.

The above-mentioned players will be joined by several newcomers.

Spadafora said that, on defence, he likes composure shown by 19-year-old Dominik Horvath and he also feels that the team will benefit from the flexibility of former Brantford Minor Hockey Association player Matt Woods, who can play defence or forward.

Spadafora said that Gus Ford, who plays forward, is “probably the most skilled guy on our team.”

Brett Parsons is a player who can score and play a physical game and he’ll join fellow BMHA graduate Ford up front.

Former BMHA forwards Christian Polillo and Evan Bidenti have signed as the team’s 16-year-olds for this season while forward Trayvon Henry, an Erie Otters draft pick, will be looking to continue where he left off last season – as the rookie of the year for the Huntsville Otters in the Georgian Bay Jr. C League.

Spadafora said David Denardi, who skated previously in the Greater Toronto Hockey League but didn’t play last year, will show fans at the Gretzky centre just what fast is all about.

“We’re excited about our forwards,” the GM said. “I think our top-six are comparable to any top-six in the league.

“The firepower we have up front, they’re not a group that we’ve assembled to play more of a defensive style.

“Obviously we’re going to be committed to our end but we’re going to hope to push the limits with our forwards and have them control the game.

“The speed and talent we have up front will dictate the way we play.”

The team has signed just one goalie – Mathieu Kingsley from Sudbury – while it weighs its options for second netminder.

With the pieces falling into place, the 99ers are ready to achieve their goal of making the playoffs this season.

“We’re pretty pumped up,” Spadafora said. “It’s a different feel from last year. Last year being our first year, hockey wasn’t the only focus. There was so much to get organized in a short period of time. This year, now that we’ve set the groundwork for the business side, we’ve been able to focus on the hockey.

“Adding these new players has brought a lot of excitement to the guys coming back from last year. There’s a buzz around our coaches room. We’re definitely looking forward to opening night next Thursday.

“We’re going to be a lot better than we were last year.”

brian.smiley@sunmedia.ca

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