London Nationals Facing Tall Order

London Nationals facing a tall order

By Ryan Pyette, The London Free Press

It’s cozy at Medway Arena.

It’s cavernous at the Western Fair Sports Centre’s Olympic-sized bowl.

The London Nationals, 0-for-2 after two road games so far this Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season, have no idea when home cooking will finally satisfy their winning urge.

The junior B club, which faces Lambton Shores Wednesday night on the big ice, is loaded with former London Junior Knights major midgets who called Medway’s postage stamp-sized rink their own last year.

“It’s going from the smallest rink in London to the biggest,” Nats head coach Kelly Thomson said. “It’s like playing in two different games, really. It’s going to take them some time to adjust to playing on that big ice, but we’ve got a young, fairly talented group and we should be able to use our speed.”

Perhaps fast down the ice will flatten the learning curve quickly.

So, too, would more Junior Knights major midget games at Western Fair during a season — but Thomson understands why that’s not entirely possible.

“What they’ve done in getting that midget team their own space at Medway (which was originally the Nats’ dressing room), it’s good for them,” he said. “It helps keep kids in the midget program.”

This particular group of 17-year-olds, who captured the Alliance title last year, is being organized as London’s building blocks back to Sutherland Cup glory.

There are four members of last year’s Catholic Central city championship team — Derek Di Iorio, Tanner Ferreira and Ethan Cocurollo and Dante Copps, who have been pals since kindergarten. Add in fellow major midget mates Brent House and Andrew Kim, there’s familiarity in the ranks.

“I think we’ve got a lot of learning to do,” Thomson said. “You turn over 16-17 guys like we did, we’re going to take our lumps along the way. From Game 1 to 2, we saw improvement and we expect it to be that way all year.

“This is the first time we’ll be taking a group and seeing what they can do for two, three years. It’s a change, but it’s exciting.”

The young guys are willing to learn and enthusiastic. That effort and hustle could pay off while jockeying for position in the league.

“In the past, you’ve got a group of older guys and November/December, their interest level isn’t where it needs to be,” Thomson said. “These young guys come to the rink and give you everything they have.”

They are learning, at the moment, to play on the defensive side of the puck. Mistakes are pretty easy to spot on the gigantic ice surface.

“Once you get to junior, you’re not the best on the ice anymore,” Thomson said, “so you’ve got to change the mindset a little bit. ”

The Nationals already have to patch up the blue line. Former Knights prospect Cam Garrow is heading to New Brunswick hoping for a look from the Saint John Sea Dogs.

Defender Anthony Kotsovos will sit out the home opener, along with Matt Bean, while serving one-game suspensions for hitting from behind in the final 10 minutes of a 2-0 loss to the Predators in Forest Sunday.

The future, Thomson and Co. contend, is bright, but no one knows who will control it. Ken Eansor has hung a for sale sign on the Nats.

“We continue to do our thing and not worry about it.” Thomson said. “We’ve grown very close to Ken so we understand the situation he’s in with his businesses. We have been very lucky to have him as our owner and forged a very special bond with him.”

Thomson, asked if the team continues with the same operating budget, said, “We are given what we need.”

Right now, they need the kids to come up big at home.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress

You all know that I am a die-hard Rockets fan, but I am also a die-hard GOJHL fan, having been watching Jr. B hockey since I was 10 years old. I will only watch the GOJHL and during the hockey season, you never know what arena RG is gonna show up at.

I’m bringing you the games, news, and updates of the GOJHL.

RG is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheRocketGirl16 and you can find me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TheRocketGirl16

If you hear of anything about any of the teams in the GOJHL, or have questions about anything, feel free to post it. If I don’t know the answer, I know how to find it.

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