Sneak Preview of The Bears

Bears preview Special to Around The Rink by Terry Shea

 

As the Smiths Falls prepare for the upcoming season, the number of unknowns certainly outnumbers the number of knowns. The Bears snuck into the playoffs on the final weekend of the regular season last year, but then were hammered in four lopsided games against the eventual National champions, from Pembroke. It was no secret around Smiths Falls, that owner Chris Cassell was not happy with his team’s performance, not only in the playoffs but in the second half of the regular season.

That led to the firing of long time coach and general manager Bill Bowker. Bowker’s impact on the Smiths Falls franchise can not be underestimated. He took a franchise in complete shambles, and turned in around. He missed the playoffs only once and had in team in the final. only three years ago. But the biggest legacy was not the team accomplishments, but the players who have used there Smith Falls Bears experience as a spring board into greater hockey successes. The recent signing of Mark Boroweicki to a professional contract with the Ottawa Senators was Coach Billy’s crowning glory. Boroweicki, Mike Bergin and Nick Tremblay were all taken in the 2008 NHL entry draft. A rare feat for any Junior team, and unheard of for a team outside of the major junior ranks.

But like anything else, all good things have to come to an end. The end came a couple of short weeks after the playoff embarrassment to Pembroke when Cassell pulled the plug.

Reasons or perhaps excuses as to why the Bears under achieved last season are easy to come by. The new arena was not ready on time, and they had to play in the tiny Youth Arena . They didn’t move into there own dressing room until a month before the end of the season. These distraction seems to effect the young team, who never really played well in there home rink all year.

The shining lights in the sub par Bears season were easy to find. Smiths Falls was able to attract former Cumberland Grads head coach and 67’s assistant Mark Grady. Grady influence was easy to see. His work with the special teams was evident. The power play and the penalty kill were the strongest part of the team’s game. With that as a backdrop Chris Cassell’s decision to hire Grady as Bowker’s replacement was a relatively easy one.

It’s hard to know who the Bears and coach Grady will have as a roster this season. . A recent spring camp netted 35 skaters and five goaltenders, so there seems to be plenty of choice. But the rebuilding job is a huge one

It starts with defenseman and captain Nathan Livingstone lost to overage, Rookie defenseman Warren Steele , who appears to be headed for Todd Gill’s Kingston Frontenacs and most recently power winger Ryan Van Staalen who has signed with the Ottawa 67’s.

But if the CCHL draft is any indication, the team has made a new commitment to more local talent. In the past the Bears have been criticized for a lack of local kids. Fans wondered why kids from Texas, Maryland and Illinois were playing on the teams’ third and fourth lines, and seeing limited ice time while players from the surrounding area were excelling at the Junior B ranks

Pembroke’s recent successes validate this. You still need the superstars, sometimes from far away, but a local core of foot soldier is imperative.

Time will tell if the new direction is the right one. But one guy who going to busy at the start of the season will be the program salesman.

Looking back, last year may have a year of transition. The real new Bears may come to the surface this year. New rink, new coach and perhaps better results.

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