The Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs may not have ended their season high in the standings with a perfect playoff run, but they did build for the future. Head Coach, Rick Swan, said the season is setting the Pontiacs up for years to come.
“The season went as planned, from a management perspective. We are staying with the process that we had decided on this year,” the coach explained the process being to build up the youth.
In the 26 years of franchise existence, the Pontiacs have always placed third to fifth in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) north standings. The goal was to build the youth up. Not just with coaching technique and on-ice style, but also to build them up with the character of player desired to be a Pontiac.
“We’ve put together some great teams in the past. We were fortunate enough to make it to the North final three years ago and have a record season two years ago. We’ve been hovering around a 37 win season. We know that everybody is great at recruiting at the junior level.”
The Pontiacs brass went with a different method this season, Coach Swan said, “to work on our development with our young players.” That meant going with a younger team, with very few veterans. As the season went on, fans saw the team trade away top scorers and key leaders like PJ Morracco and Derek Brown for younger players and future considerations. This was purposeful, said Coach Swan.
“Not only to develop our group going into next year, but we could also focus our efforts into recruiting,” that made for some difficult choices, said the coach. “Our return coming back this was in June, will put us in a position, that we’ve never been before, for next year.”
We’re not going to be a one-and-done. – Rick Swan Head Coach Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs
The team’s goal was to get 21 wins this season and they succeeded. However due to a technicality one of the wins was taken back, making for a 20 win season.
“We achieved what we wanted from a management [perspective] and felt that our players, from start to finish, had evident growth.” Coach Swan says the team understands a competitive natured person may not see the success in the season, but it was there and will be more evident next season and the seasons to come.
Our motto is short-term pain for long-term gain. -Rick Swan Head Coach Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs
“Our recruiting has been exceptional and we know that our nucleolus going forward from this year to next year with a young group is tremendous. They’ve been under our coaching for one year and that is going to allow them to propel.” Coach Swan said there are some key players that have been recruited and will be joining the team for next season.
- Most Improved Players: Lucas Thorne & Joel Ray
- Most Gentlemanly Player: Adam Panacci
- Top Scorer: Lucas Thorne
- Defensive Forward: Joel Ray
- The Matt Cook Unsung Hero Award: Brayden Goulet
- President’s Award: Charlie Gawlicki
- Top Defenseman: Lucas Albert
- Three Star Award: Justin Travis
- Most Valuable Player: Bobby Young
With the young team, there was only two graduating players that the Pontiacs honoured on Wednesday night at their annual awards ceremony. Captain Charlie Gawlicki and Assistant Captain, Riley Smith.
“Those guys have given back to our community and been champions in every sense of the word. Maybe they didn’t win a championship from their on-ice contributions, but in the community, they left Bonnyville a better place,” that is ultimately the goal for all of the Pontiacs players, said Coach Swan.
“When you think of being a leader, you think of the character of these two guys,” Swan said of both young men, “they both loved Bonnyville and wanted to be a Pontiac, right to the end. They gave everything that they could to the young players in the dressing room and helped mentor them.”
The Pontiacs typically have 10-13 graduating players each season. It goes to show how young the team was with only two aging out. Both players have expressed that they will be playing for Concordia University in the fall.
The Pontiacs are hosting their annual spring camp April 6-8, 2018. Swan says it’ll be a special camp with the Top 40 veteran players coming out. The camp is open for spectators and will be held at the RJ Lalonde Arena.