BONNYVILLE – There were 40 prospective players vying to make the cut for the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs 2022/23 roster who competed in the annual Milton Romanchuk Cup at the RJ Lalonde Arena on Aug. 28.
The players in the intra-squad game were selected from roughly 70 players who participated in the Pontiacs’ Main Camp, all with hopes of being selected to don the Yaks’ logo on their jerseys this year.
The Sunday night game between the white and black Pontiacs’ teams started off evenly matched, but as the third period carried on, the white team began pulling ahead resulting in a 6-9 final score.
Each team had a nearly even number of Pontiacs’ veterans and new players to make the match as fair as possible, explained Associate General Manager Neil Langridge.
“It's the first time that fans get to see the future Pontiacs and some of the current (team members) playing together,” he said.
“I think the crowd and everybody here got a pretty good show. Some of the veterans came back this year and they looked very good.”
Several of the returning players competed exceptionally well during the main camp's final match-up.
Pontiac veterans Matteo Giampa had three goals and one assist, Cole Hipkin had four assists, while Noah Heinrich had three assists, noted Langridge pointing out what he saw as some of the most notable plays from Sunday’s game.
A young prospective player, Kasey Rusell, also scored a behind the net ‘Michigan Goal,’ and Bonnyville prospect Brent Hoshowski managed to rack up two goals and an assist.
Langridge says taking in the Milton Romanchuk game is always an exciting time of the year because new recruits show their determination, which is encouraging to see.
“It's a good young group and it's looking to be an exciting start to the year,” he said.
Only a maximum of two 16-year-olds of the roughly 10 who played in the intra-squad game can be included on the regular season roster, as per Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) rules.
A year of changes
The upcoming year will be a season filled with change for all players, including those who are returning.
At the beginning of June, the Pontiacs organization announced the hiring of new Head Coach Brad Flynn.
A new assistant coach has also been hired to help guide the team forward. Connor Cadaret from Stouffville, Ont., will take over the role from former assistant coach Derek Hemsley, who spent one season with the organization.
“This year is obviously a little bit different as far as the operational staff and coaching staff, but... it doesn't worry me because I know our veterans, they know what we expect, what it means to be a Bonnyville Pontiac and continue that great culture,” said Langridge.
Not wanting to make any predictions for the upcoming season, Langridge said, “We have got two very qualified, skilled coaches and we are going to have 25 really skilled hockey players. So, we'll see if that makes for a match made in heaven or not.”
With the arrival of new coaches, Langridge hopes it will spark a little extra fire under the skates of returning players.
“I think it's good because they're not coming in like business as usual. They have a whole new coach to impress and will have to show him what they can do,” he remarked.
Regional Manager Milty
Milton Romanchuk has been a long-standing Jr. A Pontiacs fan and volunteer for more than 30 years. To honour his commitment to the sport of hockey and the organization, the Milton Romanchuk Cup was created.
The 65-year-old still holds the title of Pontiacs’ regional manager.
“Milty has been a huge staple of our community for many, many years and it was great to see him, and I hope to see him back next year for his game again,” said Langridge.
Before Romanchuk’s Alzheimer diagnoses he would usually attend games in full tie-and-suit attire and stand next to the Pontiacs bench with his clipboard, keeping score and yelling at players when he felt they needed to do better, Shauna Langer told Lakeland Today.
Langer spent 25 years as Romanchuk’s support worker and recalls many times when he would head off on the road with the local Jr. A team.
“I think there were probably a few times when Milty had too much fun with those boys, but he loved it,” she laughed.
Romanchuk now lives at Extendicare Bonnyville and always welcomes visitors, adds Langer.
Upcoming exhibition games
The Pontiacs will play their first exhibition game on Aug. 31 against the Battlefords North Stars at the Flying Dust First Nations Arena, Sask.
The SJHL team will then be hosted by the Yaks at the RJ Lalonde Arena on Sept. 1. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.