The Picton Pirates are Eastern Junior Development League champions.
The club has participated in the spring prospects league organized by the Quinte Golden Hawks organization for the past couple of years. This year’s crop of prospects went 8–1 in the league, capturing the championship with a 2–1 overtime victory over prospects from the Kingston Vees organization. The tournament also featured prospects from Jr. A clubs in Trent River, Cobourg, Pickering, and Whitby.
Pirates general manager Chris Masterson said offence was key throughout. The Pirates were able to dress a few veterans during each contest, which they did, but Masterson said the young offensive prospects drove the play with speed and with the defence making plays from the backend.
“Except for the games against Kingston, all of the other games were pretty high-octane offence, a lot of goals,” he said. “The defensive group we had in that league really moved the puck well, moved it up the ice quickly, which was key. We were pretty dominant on the rush through the neutral zone, we generated a lot of speed, and we scored a lot of goals because of that.”
A solid corps of defensive defenceman aside, that ability to transition quickly from defence to offence is one area Masterson felt the Pirates needed to improve over last season.
“We were looking for some D that could really move the puck and we definitely found a couple we think here in this spring team,” he said.
The EJDL continues to pay dividends for the Picton Pirates. Last season the team signed several players after positive showings in the EJDL and that trend continued this year with the club signing defenceman Derrick Vos and forwards Owen Dever and Landon McLellan so far.
“It’s pretty significant for us,” said Masterson. “Significant also was we had a lot of young AAA — and few AA players — but a lot of 16- and 17-year-old AAA players that matched up pretty well against the other teams.”
The tournament offers the club a longer look at some of the available local talent. The team considers it an extension of spring training camp that allows them to see players in game-like situations. It can be the difference in some decisions on players.
“We have our spring camp at the end of April and it allows us to extend that into May and June,” Masterson said. “The last two years it’s become our extended training camp and it’s worked out great for us.”
Just as they were last year, the Pirates are expected to be a young team in 2018–2019. Over the last couple of years, Masterson said the club has been able to attract some high-quality prospects, but there’s always the risk of losing some of those players to higher-level clubs, college, or university.
“That’s what’s hit us a little bit the last couple of years, we manage to recruit some of these good high-quality AAA players, but they end up going off to school and play a year or sometimes two,” he said. “That’s going to affect us again this year, so we’ll be young, but we’ll be extremely competitive.”
Away from the rink, a couple of the aforementioned prospects will be coming to the team this fall with some championship pedigree. Dever and McLellan missed the last couple of weeks of the EJDL as they were off to Slovakia to take part in the World U-18 Junior Boys Ball Hockey Championship. They took home the championship trophy for Canada with a 5–3 triumph over Slovakia.
“They’re great kids, obviously well-rounded athletes which is going to help us for sure,” said Masterson.
Veteran Pirates defenceman Riley Manion will also be taking part in an international competition. He’ll be taking off to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to pitch for Canada in the 2018 WBSC Junior Men’s Softball World Championship, which takes place July 7–15.
Having those multi-sport athletes in your lineup is a bonus. Masterson said he’s a strong proponent of players pursuing other sports interests in the summer and getting away from hockey as much as possible.
“In today’s world it’s tough to step away fully from hockey, but to step away as much as you can, do those other things like golf, baseball, and soccer,” he said. “If they’re proficient — and at a national level at that — that tells you you have a good athlete on your hands.”
Overall, the Junior C club continues to take shape. Masterson said he believes the club has more players committed and signed this summer than at this point in any other summer in his tenure.
“We still have spots open, but we feel very comfortable about the lineup we have here between returning players and new signings,” he said.