Sports

Edmundston Blizzard hockey team prepares for first season

EDMUNDSTON, New Brunswick — The new Edmundston Blizzard hockey team is preparing for its first season in a new community with new players and a new amphitheater.

The hockey team features players ages 16 through 20 at the Junior A level, the second highest level in minor league hockey. Teams in Junior A draft their players from one level down, Midget AAA, which has players aged 15 through 17.

When players finish Junior A hockey, they typically move on to college or university level hockey in Canada or the United States. Some players, however, do go straight on to play for pro-level teams.

The Blizzard selected ten new players for the 2017-2018 season during their first ever Maritime Junior Hockey League entry draft on June 10, and traded for two others. Of the ten players, the first selection was Liam Leonard, of the Tri-Pen Ospreys. The seventh overall selection in the draft, Leonard scored 52 points in 31 regular season games, and 17 points in playoff games. Leonard was the league’s most valuable player in his last season in Newfoundland. The team also selected Vincent Rioux, a left-winger, in round one of the draft, from the South Shore Mustangs. Rioux scored 43 points in 81 games.

The other eight players selected included goaltender Max Walford, defensemen Chase Carter, centers Olivier-Luc Haché and Mathieu Blanchard, forward Danik Bossé, and defenseman Spencer Langille-Crowe. In the territorial draft, the Blizzard selected forwards Caleb Kean and Andrew Burden.

The jersey of Edmundston, New Brunswick’s new Maritime Junior Hockey League team, the Blizzard.
(Contributed)

These draftees will be joining the players of the former Dieppe Commandos, who moved to Edmundston during the off season. General Manager Steve MacPherson hopes to carry 20 players on the team and will start the selection process in training camp beginning in August. Those players who don’t make the cut will go back to their midget hockey teams.

MacPherson worked for the Commandos for three years and followed the team’s transition to the Blizzard. The Dieppe Commandos were successful in their last seasons, reaching the league championships three years in a row and winning the championship two years ago. Despite that success, MacPherson said, the franchise did not receive much fan support because of the large amount of competitive hockey in Dieppe. He expect the move from Dieppe to Edmundston will give rise to a new fan base.

“It’s a great thing for Edmundston, because they’re going to do it right,” said MacPherson. “All the people involved right now, I know they are all super passionate. They’re doing it the right way; they’re all in.”

MacPherson has high hopes for the season, with 400 season tickets already sold. He expects an estimated 1,200 fans to attend each home game to start and believes the team could come to have the largest fan base in the league.

“The support of the community is going to be there and it’s going to be huge,” said MacPherson.

To accommodate the expected community support, a new amphitheater is being built. The Jean-Daigle Center will hold more than 2,400 fans when construction, which has begun, is completed. The stadium is expected to open for home games one month into the Blizzard’s season. To start, however, home games will be played in Saint-Basile.

“It’s going to be exciting once the team gets up and running in Edmundston. I think it is going to be a huge success,” MacPherson said.

For more information on the Blizzard team and to purchase tickets for the upcoming season, visit www.blizzardedmundston.ca

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