Clippers gear up for another summer

By Devan Mighton – Originally published in the Lakeshore News and Tecumseh Shoreline on Apr. 27, 2017

Photo: Captain Andrew Garant finds room past assistant captain James Morgan at practice on Mar. 20 as the Windsor Clippers prepare for their season opener.  DEVAN MIGHTON / LAKESHORE NEWS

(WINDSOR, ON) – The Windsor Clippers Junior B lacrosse club are about to embark on their 15th season, but with a younger cast and crew than previously expected.

Winners of 11 Far-West Division titles since their founding in 2003, the Clippers are coming off a landmark season in which they achieved their second highest playoff seeding in team history and a trip to the Western Conference final.

But success will bring attention.

“I think the problem with being successful is that teams come looking,” said head coach Jerry Kavanaugh. “If we were one of those mediocre Junior B teams, no one would care about our players. The fact that they’re coming and asking our guys to move up to the next level, I think, is encouraging to the rest of our guys.”

Last year’s club was led by Logan Holmes, now the property of the National Lacrosse League’s Buffalo Bandits, who shattered the Clippers’ season and career scoring marks on his way to the Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League’s scoring title. Holmes also made waves this winter by scoring the first goal in the Arena Lacrosse League’s history with a highlight reel snipe for the Paris RiverWolves.

Along with the loss of Holmes and fellow scoring machine Ryan Marchand, the Clippers are also bleeding talent to Junior A.

Patrick Kaschalk, an uber-talented transition player, is walking into a position with the Burlington Chiefs of the Ontario Junior A Lacrosse League, while Josh Jubenville and Liam Leclair will step up with the Six Nations Arrows.

Kavanaugh pointed out that these three graduates were forged in the Clippers’ trenches, learning their craft here at home before making the jump.

“[It shows] you don’t have to make that jump to Junior A right away; you can play most of your career here,” said Kavanaugh. “Later on, as you get older, you feel it is the best move, you can make that decision then.”

Giving credit to the management skills of president Mike Soulliere and alum/vice-president Andrew Soulliere, he added: “the fact that we’re in the top four or five teams in the league, seems like every year – looks like we’re doing something right.”

Prime examples of this locally born, home-brew talent are the newly minted leaders of the 2017 team – team captain Andrew Garant and assistants James Morgan and Austin Thompson.

The three bring a wealth of experience to the forefront of the Clippers organization.

Thompson and Morgan are both proficient transition players who play with as much heart as they exhibit talent. Morgan has one more year of eligibility, while Thompson will graduate at the end of the season.

“Obviously, two guys that lead by example,” said Coach Kavanaugh. “James Morgan is 100-m.p.h. whenever he’s on the floor and Austin Thompson, again, a fifth-year guy who’s been here a long time and knows what it takes to win here. We’re counting on those guys, obviously, to be big parts.”

Garant, known as “Hammer” to his teammates, is entering his fifth year with the club. He sits sixth on Windsor’s all-time scoring list, back 123 points of Holmes.

Garant is coming off a 37-goal, 108-point season, and has served as a juggernaut on Windsor’s special teams for the past few years.

He will spend his off-nights showcasing his abilities in Junior A with the Orangeville Northmen, a systems-oriented squad that will serve as a good second home for the dynamic Clipper.

“He’s got some big shoes to fill,” said Kavanaugh of Garant taking over for Holmes. “Hammer’s been wearing a letter for a few years, so he’s ready for that.”

Garant’s objective this year? “Just leading this young team.”

“Our story isn’t finished yet,” explained Garant. “We made it to the conference finals last year and our goal is still the same as any other year before. I hope we’re going to go to the Founders [Cup national championship] and that’s still the goal.”

The new captain knows that he may have to steer the ship early on, but he anticipates that everyone will find their place and man their station.

“We’re definitely young this year, but I think we’re going to be good,” added Captain Garant. “I know people are doubting us right now because we did lose a lot of good guys like Logan Holmes and Ryan Marchand and guys like that, but I know this team’s going to be good.

“We’re going to be young, but all the young kids coming up, they’ve played good ball in minor, so I think we’re going to be really solid this year and hard to beat.”

Young and talented, the Clippers will have quite a few fresh faces. Some of the rookies will be seeing a lot of floor time – especially on offence.

“Losing the guys we lost, looks like [Nathan] Salaris and [Jackman] Schooley will be starting on the right side and [Jake] Rosa will be starting on the left side with us,” said Kavanaugh.

Rosa, a 17-year-old rookie, feels that his hard work, speed, and his ability to make offence will make him an asset to his teammates.

“I’m just looking forward to playing with a bunch of new guys – older guys,” said the freshman. “I’ve been looking up to these guys for quite some time now and I’m just excited to play by their side.”

He added: “We’ve got a young team here. We can still go really far if we work together and just keep thinking positive.”

Patrick Kaschalk will start the year with Windsor, but will likely be replaced by a fresh face once he jumps to Junior A. Meanwhile, veterans Craig Marentette, Dylan Riley and Steve Jaworski are off at college and may be delayed in their return to the club.

The Clippers will also be sporting a crowded crease.

With last year’s starter, Brayden Bell, returning to the Point Edward Pacers, Windsor has rostered three goalies in hopes that one will establish himself.

“Someone’s got to take over for Beller,” explained Kavanaugh. “[Jacob] Corra’s a fifth-year guy, we’re hoping he can move in … we’re hoping he can be that guy.”

Corra was the starter for the Clippers during the 2015 campaign but was relegated to third-string last season with the acquisition of Bell and work commitments getting in the way.

With that in mind, the Clippers have chosen to bring in a pair of 2000-born netminders, fresh out of midget to keep the long-time vet on his toes – Windsor’s Joel Evans and Centre Wellington’s Carsen Hebner. Hebner will split his time with the Windsor Warlocks intermediates.

“It’s not a bad thing to have a battle for floor time,” said their coach. “I think all three had moments in the pre-season that looked really good and they had moments where they need to get better.”

The big question mark this season will be the level of competition within their own division.

The ever-struggling London Blue Devils appear to be falling out of the gate once again. As of last weekend, they are already 0-3 on the season, having suffered blowout loses to the Six Nations Rebels and Wallaceburg Red Devils.

Point Edward will get a big boost from the return of Bell between the pipes and stand to make gains from a vibrant youth movement coming up from midget, while the Red Devils are chocked full of veteran talent and very decent off-season acquisitions from the Rebels.

The Clippers stand to gain from the increase in intra-divisional competition, as inconsistent opponents, in the past, have often broken team synergy leading up to the playoffs.

“In the last few years, we’ve been able to run the table in our division and we’ve kinda been unchallenged,” said Kavanaugh. “It wouldn’t break my heart to battle for some wins in the division – which would be good for us in the long run.”

The Windsor Clippers began their season on Wednesday in London, but their home opener will be at 7 p.m. at the Forest Glade Arena on Saturday as they host the Hamilton Bengals.

Home schedule:

*Saturday, Apr. 29 vs. Hamilton Bengals @ 7 p.m.

*Sunday, May 7 vs. Wallaceburg Red Devils @ 7 p.m.

*Thursday, May 11 vs. London Blue Devils @ 8 p.m.

*Saturday, May 20 vs. Owen Sound North Stars @ 7 p.m.

*Thursday, May 25 vs. Point Edward Pacers @ 8 p.m.

*Saturday, May 27 vs. Niagara Thunderhawks @ 7 p.m.

*Saturday, June 3 vs. Guelph Regals @ 7 p.m.

*Thursday, June 8 vs. London Blue Devils @ 8 p.m.

*Tuesday, June 13 vs. Wallaceburg Red Devils @ 8 p.m.

*Thursday, June 15 vs. Point Edward Pacers @ 8 p.m.

All games to be played at the Forest Glade Arena.

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