The Saint John Sea Dogs will be a tough act to follow given their spectacular 2016-17 campaign that saw the club do it all except win the Memorial Cup on their way to being the toast of the QMJHL a season ago. That being said, the Sea Dogs appear to be up for the challenge as they prepare to begin defence of their President Cup title.
While the team was hit hard with many key players moving on from that star-studded club including all-world blue-liner Thomas Chabot, the Sea Dogs have a number of new faces ready to introduce themselves to St. John. That list includes import draft selections out of the Czech Republic: defenceman Radim Salda and forward Ostap Safin.
Another new face for the Sea Dogs is behind their bench. After QMJHL coach of the year Danny Flynn left the organization in July, the Sea Dogs made it a point to take their time finding his replacement Josh Dixon who was named on Sept. 8.
“Six weeks ago we set out to embark on this search for a head coach. We could’ve hired a coach that same day, we had a number of phone calls from people making recommendations and 100’s of applicants, but we first wanted to determine what today’s player needs in order to find today’s coach,” explained Sea Dogs President and General Manager, Trevor Georgie. “To us, today’s player needs three things: strong communication between player and coach, skill development and the third is mental and emotional strength.
“Josh for us checked all those boxes. He also has a pair of Master’s degrees – one in high performance coaching and one in sports psychology so he understands that part of it,” added Georgie. “On the development side, he was the director of player development for CAA one of the biggest global agencies where he worked with JP Barrie and Pat Brisson, supporting their players to help them get to the next level. And among Josh’s biggest strengths are his skills as a teacher and communicator. We knew he was the right fight for us.”
Not every face is new in Saint John. Among the key returnees for the Sea Dogs is Joe Veleno who continues to impress scouts with each passing season. The only player with exceptional status in the CHL today, Veleno is also one of only three forwards in CHL history to have earned the honour along with John Tavares and Connor McDavid. Veleno is joined this year by the likes of other veterans including Cedric Pare and goalie Alex D’Orio.
The Sea Dogs are ready show what they have planned for an encore. This is an organization steeped in excellence and their fans expect no less.
“We are fortunate to have very strong ownership here in St. John that is so committed to winning,” said Georgie. “We’ve have three Memorial Cup appearances in the past seven years – that’s second behind only the London Knights across the CHL over that span. I think our fan base appreciates it and enjoys it, but I think we are a bit spoiled as an organization. But the meaning for our fans and our proud city that loves their Sea Dogs to get to bring another President Cup title here was really special.”
The Sea Dogs will begin their defence of that championship when they host the Halifax Mooseheads on September 21.
Saint John Sea Dogs in 2016-17
Record: 48-14-5-1 (102 pts)
Overall rank: 1st
Goals for: 287
Goals against: 180
Matthew Highmore (34-55-89)
Mathieu Joseph (36-44-80)
Spencer Smallman (30-49-79)
Won President’s Cup. Lost 6-3 to the Erie Otters in the Memorial Cup semi-final.
Ostap Safin (R1 2017 CHL Import Draft)
Radim Salda (R2 2017 CHL Import Draft)
Daniel Hardie (Rimouski/QMJHL)
Thomas Chabot (Ottawa/NHL)
Matthew Highmore (Rockford/AHL)
Nathan Noel (Rockford/AHL)
Spencer Smallman (Charlotte/AHL)
Mathieu Joseph (Syracuse/AHL)
Julien Gauthier (Charlotte/AHL)