By Devan Mighton – Originally published in the LaSalle Post on Jan. 6, 2017
Photo: LaSalle’s Jack Bowler (pictured Nov. 23) scored a goal and three assists at the GOJHL’s prospects game on Dec. 28. DEVAN MIGHTON / LASALLE POST
This holiday season, the players of the LaSalle Vipers junior hockey club enjoyed some well-earned time off from game action, that is, all but rookies Jack Bowler and Dershahn Stewart.
On Dec. 28, the two rookies, coaches Bill Bowler and Brad Meredith, along with trainers Don Mouck, and Rod and Jase Doucette trekked east to Ancaster to participate in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s prospect game festivities. The entire crew were members of team Prospects Orange, except Stewart who played net for Prospects Blue.
“A real good turnout of not only fans but [Ontario Hockey League] and NCAA scouts,” said Coach Bowler after the game. “Just a lot of talent. It’s a lot of fun coaching in games like that and standing behind young players with some aspirations. They put a real good product out on the ice today and a real entertaining game.”
Jack Bowler, who was a 2016 draft pick of the Windsor Spitfires, enjoyed his experience.
“It was real fun,” said Jack. “Getting to the rink and meeting a whole bunch of young hockey players like me; just good to meet new guys, play with different guys.”
Stewart also appreciated the experience, but as a goalie, was at the receiving end of a lot of quality scoring chances – often a frustration for tenders at an all-star event.
“They had a lot of fans there,” said the goalie. “The atmosphere was great. The kids were great. I wish I would have done a little bit better, but just the whole experience was just a great experience.”
The event featured two games. The game the Vipers participated in was for players born in 2000, while a later game took place with prospects born in 1998 and 1999. No LaSalle players were selected for the latter game, although Michael Ruttinger was chosen as an alternate for the match.
In the end, Prospects Orange steamrolled Prospects Blue 8-3. Bowler scored a goal and tallied three assists, while his Viper teammate, Stewart, stopped 20 shots in the loss.
“Eight goals seem like [Dershahn Stewart] had a tough night, but the reality is that we executed a lot of good plays and he made a lot of big saves as well,” said Bill Bowler, who coached the winning team. “The score could have been a little higher, believe it or not.”
Stewart was at a clear disadvantage during the game. Due to a late roster change, with no suitable back-up, Stewart was stuck in net the entire match against the best 16-year-olds in the league, while his opposition had two goalies they could rotate and keep well rested.
To compound issues further, the statistic-taking at the game was questionable at best. At one point, the event was listed as a 1-1 tie as a final score and later the scorers were reported inaccurately.
Coach Bowler also doubts the veracity of the reported shot totals.
“I think we had a lot more shots than 28 [on Dershahn Stewart],” said the Vipers’ bench boss. “For him, I think there was way more; hopefully they correct all that for him as well.”
Jack Bowler, on the other hand, had an indisputable night. On a line with Mitch Hoelscher of Elmira and Spencer Kersten of Waterloo, the Vipers rookie tore up the ice, as he and his linemates picked up four points apiece.
“[At] first, you’re a bit nervous, but then you start to fit in and you settle in and you just start playing hockey,” said Jack Bowler. “We just kinda connected right away and started controlling the play down low and we had a very good game.”
“He had a pretty good night,” commented Bill Bowler. “He ended up with four points, and his winger was the star of the game, [Spencer Kersten] from Waterloo. So, Jack showed well against his peers.”
For a couple intriguing, and probably uncomfortable, moments the Vipers’ bench staff watched as Bowler and Stewart went one-on-one on the ice. In one of these exchanges, Bowler inevitably hit pay-dirt against his teammate in net.
“I play against [Stewart] in practice a lot and I know where to shoot it on him,” joked Jack Bowler. “When I came down on the 2-on-1, the one time, I knew right where to put it and got lucky, slipped one by him.”
Stewart confirmed: “He came down and ripped one on me. I thought he was gonna pass, but he has a good shot. He picked that corner and I have to give him props for that.”
Regardless of what transpired at the prospects game, the two Vipers rookies are having great seasons.
Stewart, who has made a quantum leap from midget A hockey to the high intensity of the GOJHL, has held up well as a rookie. Having logged just a hair under 600 minutes of game time this season, he sports a 7-1-1 record, 3.11 goals against average, and a .889 save percentage.
“It’s a great calibre of hockey,” said the goalie. “It’s a big jump from [midget], where I came from last year, to come into this league, but I’ve got everyone making it easier to come in,” adding, “It’s just like family.”
Jack Bowler, Coach Bowler’s son, was a standout with the minor midget Sun County Panthers last year, enough to get himself picked by the Spitfires in last summer’s draft. As a junior B rookie, he has shined, putting up five goals and 17 assists in 34 games.
“[The] older guys on the team, guys like Dan Beaudoin, Nathan Savage, they make the transition very easy,” said Jack. “[They] just make you feel comfortable and give you the confidence to go out there and play your game.”
Despite Ruttinger being chosen as an alternate for the latter prospects game, the lack of Vipers playing in it was duly noted.
“Anytime there’s selections made, it’s hard,” said Coach Bowler. “There’s 27 teams in our league, and to get it down to the right number, it’s difficult … there’s a few ’98s I would have liked in that hockey game for sure.” He later added, “You’d think some our D, [Brett] Banwell or [Zack] Hoffman, or even [Brendan] Soto, one of them might have got in, but again, it’s a committee, it’s other GMs in the league, that pick them and it’s hard.”
Now that it is 2017, the focus turns to finishing the season strong and the coming playoff run. LaSalle sits first in the Western Conference with a 26-5-3 record and leads their group with goals scored (167) and penalty kill (85.4 per cent). Despite this, there is still room for growth. The Vipers’ power play sits fourth in the west, over eight per cent behind the league-leading London Nationals.
“I believe, there’s still room for improvement,” said Coach Bowler. “Even though we’re happy with where we are today, I think there still a little bit of growth in our whole team.”
He also added, “We take pride in the regular season. I know, [it’s the] playoffs you’re always gunning for, but where we’re sitting now, if we can somehow solidify that number one seed, I think it would be a great accomplishment for our group. Like we always do, we worry about the next game – and so far, so good.”
The Vipers will next be in action, at home, on Jan. 11, as they host the Strathroy Rockets at 7 p.m. The next evening, the hometown crew will head north to Sarnia to meet the Legionnaires.