Chemistry, skill and OHL experience headline Men’s Hockey recruiting class
Coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory, the Laurier Golden Hawks men’s hockey program announced 11 new additions to the team as part of their 2020-21 recruiting class.
In what will be his tenth season as head coach, Greg Puhalski knows he had a lot of work to do this offseason as the Golden Hawks lost some of their most productive players to graduation this past year.
Puhalski is thrilled with the individual character of the 11 new players as well as the skill level that they will bring to the team.
“While this is a bigger class than typical, I believe we found some people who want to play hockey and are great students who want to get better while being part of a good program,” he said.
Laurier had a remarkable season last year, finding themselves in last place of the west division after the first half of the season, before winning 10 of their final 14 games and qualifying for the playoffs. At the time, the Golden Hawks looked like one of the best teams in the province and were recognized by the OUA and USPORTS as they earned their first national ranking in nearly a decade.
The character of Puhalski’s program shined in the second half of the season, as they went on a seven-game point streak starting before the Christmas break and ending two weeks into the new year. The remarkable climb to the playoffs was led by experienced forwards Anthony Conti and his line mate Anthony Sorrentino as well as Danny Hanlon and captain Will Cook.
Forward Anthony Conti had a career season scoring 15 goals and notching 28 points, matching that of Tyler Stothers and Ryan Bellows as the highest point total by an individual Golden Hawk forward in almost a decade.
Conti developed great chemistry with Sorrentino who was fourth on the team in goalscoring. Will Cook was pivotal in leading the team down the stretch and this line as well as Danny Hanlon, who was second on the team with 21 points and 11 goals contributed to the great run by the Hawks.
While the upcoming season has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Coach Puhalski knew he had a lot of work ahead of him as all four of those players graduated from the team this past year.
The 11 recruits will have a large void to fill as the Golden Hawks lost three of their top four goal scorers in Conti, Sorrentino and Hanlon as well as team captain Will Cook. Defenseman Jacob Hetherington who has amassed over 100 games with the Golden Hawks also graduated from Laurier.
Puhalski added seven forwards, three defenceman and one goalie to the roster for the 2020-21 season and a large portion of them have OHL experience, while some of them were teammates. Coach relied on the professional experience that the new players have under their belt.
“It’s no secret, the OHL is the best junior league in Canada as far as turning out quality hockey players, that’s where you want to get most of your guys. I like to call them the ‘blue-chip’ recruits as they bring the experience and can contribute to the team,” Coach Puhalski said.
Goaltender Christian Propp from Milton, Ontario joins the purple and gold after playing the past four seasons on four teams in the OHL. Entering the OHL with Barrie in 2015, Propp also played for Kingston, North Bay and the Soo Greyhounds, recording a 3.68 GAA and a 0.888 save per centage in 162 games.
“You have to make sure you have a lot of depth at the goaltender position and for Propp, it was a matter of opportunity and fit with the program and school,” Puhalski said of the goaltender’s future at Laurier.
On the blue line, the Golden Hawks added three point-getting defencemen in Declan Graham, Conor Ali and Adrian Nabuurs.
Ali has played in over 200 games in the OHL as a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs, Sudbury Wolves and Kingston Frontenacs. Nabuurs was a captain last year for the Collingwood Colts of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) and had a career season, being named an all-star. Before playing in Collingwood, Nabuurs played four years of hockey in Lithuania.
The final addition on the blue line is Declan Graham who will be familiar with the program, given his brother Mack who is entering his third season with the Golden Hawks. Declan recently played in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, recording 105 points in 222 career games. 2019 was his best season, recording 34 points in 52 games while also being the captain on his Steinbach Pistons team.
To replace the point production of Conti, Sorrentino and Hanlon, Puhalski brought in seven forwards who have skill, speed and chemistry. Two of the new additions, Nick Guinta and Nick McHugh were teammates together in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) this past season. Both averaged over a point per game and McHugh has past experience as a member of the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL.
Two more teammates who are joining the Golden Hawks together are Caleb Rich and Cole Waugh. They both played their hockey most recently in the Maritime Junior Hockey League (MJHL) with the Amherst Ramblers. Rich had 153 points in 150 career games with Amherst while Waugh spent three seasons as the team captain and tallied 128 points in 152 career games.
The Amherst Ramblers have been a familiar place for Puhalski to recruit players from as Hawk goaltender and Laurier rookie of the year Matt Williams spent his time with the Ramblers before joining the purple and gold last year.
Liam Stevens, Devlin Shannahan and Sullivan Sparkes round out the rest of the class. Stevens has played nearly 200 games in the OHL with Guelph and Hamilton, While Shannahan spent his past seasons in Mississauga playing in the OJHL. Devlin is the nephew of Maple Leafs executive Brendan Shannahan.
Sullivan Sparkes is also a familiar face as he is the son of Brad Sparkes who won two OUA Championships with the Golden Hawks back in the 1980’s. Sullivan is a native of Waterloo and has QMJHL experience as well as OHL experience with the Oshawa Generals.
While the schedule for the 2020 season and hockey’s return to play remain uncertain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Golden Hawks have made the necessary moves to remain a competitive team next season — whenever that may be.