Lethbridge – Coming off a second consecutive season where the Lethbridge Pronghorn men’s hockey team missed the post-season, the page has been turned and a new era of Pronghorn hockey is set to begin under new head coach Spiros Anastas.
The ‘Horns open the 2014-15 Canada West season this Thursday night, hosting the front half of a home-and-home series with the Mount Royal Cougars. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 PM at Nicholas Sheran Arena.
Game two of the home-and-home series will go Saturday night in Calgary.
Anastas was hired this past April and joins the ‘Horns after spending the past two seasons as a member of the Detroit Red Wings organization, being an assistant coach with the Red Wings AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.
The ‘Horns return 19 players from last season’s team and Anastas has added a good mix of youth and experience with eight new recruits.
Among Anastas’s first recruiting class are two NCAA transfers, two CIS transfers and four true freshmen. Forwards Brandon Clowes and Manny Gialedakis took advantage of the CIS eligibility repatriation rule and set right into the ‘Horns line-up.
Goaltender Warren Shymko transfers from the University of Ottawa and will push returning goaltenders Damien Ketlo and Dylan Tait for time in the crease. Shymko had a solid freshman season with the Gee Gees, putting up a 2.76 goals-against-average and a 0.900 save percentage.
An area of strength for the Pronghorns this season should be their blue line, as the ‘Horns return their entire top 6 defensemen from last season. Tim Campbell, David McMullen, Corbin Karl, Cason Machacek, Hayden Rintoul and Brent Henke will be the keys to ‘Horns success this season.
“Our success relies on our six returning defensemen being able to play a solid all-around game, while making defence a priority,” said first-year head coach Spiros Anastas.
After scoring a league low 52 goals last season, the ‘Horns forwards will need to up their production if the team is to have a resurgence this year. Following solid freshmen seasons, there are big expectations for Ryon Moser, Mitch Maxwell and Brock Hirsche.
Hirsche finished tied with Cass Mappin for the team lead in goals with seven, while Moser recorded six goals and 10 assists in 26 games last season.
Newcomers Clowes, Sam Wilbur and Artsiom Kalashnikov have shown some offensive flare during the ‘Horns non-conference schedule and will be counted on to produce during their first season with the program.
Wilbur finished second in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) scoring last season with 36 goals and 50 assists, while Kalashnikov picked up 52 points in 55 games last season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL).
For the Cougars, entering their third season in the conference and coming off their first post-season experience, are also in a year of transition with a new head coach in Bert Gilling.
Gilling, entering his first year at the helm of the Cougars program, has the luxury of 19 returning players from the team that finished fifth in the conference with 11-14-3 season but leading scorer Devin Gannon is no longer with the team.
However, the next two top scorers in Cody Cartier and Matt Brown are back to lead the conference’s third lowest scoring team from last year.
Also returning for the Cougars is their workhorse in the crease last season, Dalyn Fleete. Fleete played in 24 of the teams 28 conference games and started all three games in the Cougars playoff series loss to the Manitoba Bisons.