Morrisburg Jr. Lions look forward to 2023

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

MORRISBURG – The Christmas Break in the hockey schedule also marks the unofficial half-way point in the 2022-23 season. For the Morrisburg Jr. Lions, the break is a time to rest, and recharge before the push for the playoffs begin.

The Lions sit in seventh place in the National Capital Junior Hockey League standings with 14 points. So far this season, the team has garnered six wins, 13 losses and two overtime losses, a result that team General Manager and Head Coach Cody Casselman said he and the team are unhappy with.

“We’re unhappy with seventh place, but I think we have a good roster and we have started to climb the standings,” he told The Leader.

The Lions won three of their last four games before the break, closing out the 2022 side of the season with an 11-5 loss to the Gatineau Hull-Volant.  Getting as high in the standings as possible is an attainable goal for Casselman and the team.

“We’d like to get to fifth or sixth,” he said. “But if we get on a run of wins, who knows where it can go.”

Since taking over as GM this summer many new players have been added to the roster, a process that Casselman said is still being fine-tuned.

“On defence, we’ve made some adjustments bringing in two new defencemen,” he said. Returning is Josh Price, who played for the Lions in the latter half of the 2021-22 season. Another addition is Jakob Bennett, a 19 year old defenceman from Ottawa.

“They help solidify the defence,” he explained. “We’re still working on acquiring some depth and strength to help out with getting to the playoffs.”

The team got off to a slow start this season, landing their first win three games into the season. Morrisburg won only three of their first 17 games of the season and in early November changed the bench. Casselman assumed the Head Coach role, with new associate and assistant coaches joining the organization.

Seven games into the change, the Lions began a three game winning streak by knocking off powerhouse Gatineau 7-4. A 7-5 win over last season’s champions, the Clarence Castors, and an 8-4 doubling of the St. Isidore Eagles  showed the team is adjusting to the changes.

“The team accepted and bought in,” Casselman said. “We’re starting to get buy-in from top-to-bottom. We’ve been telling [the team] from the start that if they buy into the systems, they will be rewarded with the victories.”

The loss to Gatineau at the Slush Puppy Centre December 18 did not put a sour note in to finish the calendar year. Casselman said it showed the team still needed to add some depth and strength.

“The phones haven’t stopped,” he said. “We’re always looking to get stronger. This league is about which players are peaking at the right time.”

One player already on the roster that has been tearing up the league in scoring has been Keon Troccolli-Roik who joined the team at the start of the season. Troccolli-Roik leads the league in goals, scoring 32 goals in 19 games, averaging 2.74 points per game. He is third in overall points.

The Lions have three players in the top-10 for scoring and overall points in the NCJHL, and have the fourth highest goals-for in the league. Unfortunately the team is  in the bottom three for goals-against.

As the January 10 trade deadline and the February deadline for a 23-player roster both near, Casselman said he is looking to add players from outside of the league, either at the Jr. A or Jr. B level, or elsewhere.

“I don’t think there are a lot of players being moved within the league,” he explained. “Everyone feels like they are a piece or two away from competing. Whoever you bring in from the A or B is going be a character player, or one of those unforeseen guys who people didn’t think would be available.”

The team is in a good place for the stretch as they still have one overage (21 year old) roster spot available, one of the few in the league to still have a spot open. Still, the GM said the team will add players if it builds on the foundation that was laid this fall, “and if it builds us in the right direction.”

A positive direction and local players, led by team captain and Williamsburg-native Dean Lapier, have seen increased attendance at home games and community support.

“We’ve had great local community support, even through the rough early days in the season,” Casselman said, which drives the team to do better. “We want to give our local fans something to cheer for going into the playoffs.”

The Lions hit the ice with a big three-game weekend starting January 6, 2023 in Metcalfe against the Jets. Morrisburg will host Almonte Inferno on January 7 (7:30 p.m. start), and then head to Hawkesbury to play the Vankleek Hill Cougars January 8.

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