Will Lafford (left) and Dawson Grenier show off the retro jerseys the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers will use to open the 2019 Fred Page Cup on Wednesday against the Ottawa Junior Senators. The jerseys feature the logo the club used when it won the Maritime championship in 1990 and hosted the then Centennial Cup in 1993. – Darrell Cole
Team to use retro jerseys in opener tonight against Ottawa
AMHERST, N.S. — Will Lafford wants to finish his junior hockey career with a bang.
The 21-year-old Sackville, N.B. native and his Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers teammates have spent the last four weeks working hard to stay in game shape as the 2019 Fred Page Cup opens Wednesday at the Amherst Stadium.
“We’re very ready. We’ve had three or four weeks of very intense practices,” Lafford said. “We’re in the best shape we’ve been all year and we’re all healthy – something we weren’t all season.”
Lafford, who joined the Ramblers via a trade with the Dieppe Commandos in 2017, scored 14 goals and added 16 assists for 30 points in 35 games. His grit and leadership were important throughout the season, which is why he and Dawson Grenier shared the captaincy.
“The boys are excited. We’re a really close knit group but it’s not that fun practicing for that many weeks. It’ll be nice to get out there and play a real game,” he said. “The key is to be mentally prepared because there’s no doubt in my mind that if we stick to our systems and play the way we can we’ll be fine.”
For Lafford, his biggest goal will be to look at himself in the mirror and know that he did everything he could for his team.
For coach and general manager Jeff LeBlanc, he can’t wait to get back behind the bench.
“I feel great going in, but it’s all about those guys in that room,” LeBlanc said. “We’re well prepared, we’re healthy and I don’t think we’ve been in better shape. The boys are excited and you can see the stadium and how sharp it is.”
LeBlanc said the focus has been improving on some of the issues the team experienced against South Shore during the first round of the MHL playoffs when it was knocked out in seven games.
He understands there will be a little rust, but he thinks the team will be fine as long as his club plays a physical game and uses its speed against an equally fast Ottawa Junior Senators.
“One of the reasons why we built our team the way we did is to compete at the Fred Page Cup. We went with speed this year and I’m glad we did because we’re going to face a lot of speed,” LeBlanc said.
He has watched a lot of Ottawa games and is familiar with Yarmouth Mariners. Princeville, which won the Quebec league title, is a bit of an unknown as he could not watch its games on Hockey TV.
To LeBlanc, the key to winning is simple.
“We can’t afford to make any mistakes. It’s really that simple,” he said. “It comes down to three things, limiting our mistakes, our special teams and goaltending. Also, we have to think defence before offence.”
He said there were times in the playoffs that the team had difficulty getting pucks out of its own end and had trouble with defensive turnovers and forwards blowing out of the defensive zone too early.
It’s something the coaching staff has focused on since Game 7 against South Shore.
Saying that, he knows his club can win.
“We can win this, we won 36 games during the regular season and 39 games in total all year,” he said. “We are a good team. I know they are and they know they are too. The confidence is there, I just hope the confidence is there to know they can compete against these teams.”
Yarmouth opens the tournament at 3 p.m. against the Quebec league champions Titan de Princeville.
Amherst also plays Yarmouth on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with Ottawa meeting Princeville at 3 p.m.
Games Friday include Yarmouth against Ottawa at 3 p.m. and Amherst against Princeville at 7 p.m.
The second and third-place teams from the round robin meet in Saturday’s semifinal at 7 pm with the semi winner meeting the top team in the round robin the Fred Page Cup final on Sunday at 4 pm.