Stephen Leithwood / Niagara This Week Staff
Before the puck dropped on the hockey season, coach Shawn Coers thought to himself “what have I got myself into?”
Hardly any kids came out to tryout for his Port Colborne novice Sailors minor hockey team during the month of September.
Coers managed to cobble together enough seven and eight-year-old players to meet the minimum requirement to ice a novice team. The squad quickly gelled together and the Sailors opened the season with a 10-2 victory over Dunnville.
These Sailors are on the younger side of novice-level hockey. The team has a six-year-old forward and a total of eight first-year novice players.
“So not only are we a B centre competing against larger A centres such as Grimsby, Fort Erie, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, in most cases we are competing against players a year older,” said Coers.
On a Sunday drive in early October, Coers spotted one of his players shooting on an empty net on a driveway.
“Then going a few more blocks I saw two more of my players shooting on an empty net,” he said. “I remember thinking to myself ‘I think we’ll be ‘okay’ this year.’”
The novice Sailors did more than ‘okay’ as they skated through the Ontario Minor Hockey League’s Niagara District season with a sparkling 28-0 record.
On Monday, Port Colborne capped off a perfect season with a 5-1 drubbing of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The novice Sailors will take on four teams — Aylmer, Glanbrook, Ingersol and Paris — when they begin the first round of the OMHA playoffs.
Port Colborne outscored their opponents 276-32, and recorded 10 shutouts. In addition, the Sailors posted an overall record of 48-2 with three tournament wins.
“I think what is more impressive than the stats is that this year was viewed as a rebuilding year for the novice program in Port, because there were only five players returning from last year’s OMHA finalists team,” said Coers. “This year’s squad is very young and small in stature, but they have the desire and heart.”
The Sailors are also one of the least penalized teams in the league and take pride in their disciplined play.
“I’m also proud of how well they pass the puck. We hear that a lot from opposing coaches, parents and even referees,” said Coers. “Too often novice hockey consists of one dominant player skating through an entire team to score, which is great but I think our team has a better chance if we move the puck around. It’s created a really balanced team.”