Yarmouth _ What do the Yarmouth Mariners and the Amherst Ramblers have in common?
First off, they are farther apart geographically than any two MHL teams in Nova Scotia.
Secondly, neither team made the playoffs last season.
But the coaches for both teams are looking to change this. Change their season standings that is, they still can’t do anything about the long drive.
All MHL teams are gearing up for training camps. In Amherst, players will take the ice Aug. 23.
“It looks like right now we have roughly 22 forwards, 12 defencemen and only three goalies right away. We do have a few guys that are going to major junior camp,” says head coach Jeff LeBlanc. Many MHL teams find themselves in that boat, waiting to see who comes back from major camp.
Last season the Ramblers went young and traded all of their 20-year-olds at deadline. That left the possibility open for everyone coming back, although not all of them will.
“Obviously there are some guys that were on the team last year that won’t be this year,” LeBlanc says. “We have a pretty good nucleus coming back and we added some guys over the summer that we think will make big impacts right away, so we expect a good year.”
Asked what is most important this year, LeBlanc says it is consistency.
“You’re not going to win in this league having one good game, one bad game. You have to string wins together and we didn’t do that last year.”
Some nearly 500 kilometres away here in Yarmouth, preparations are underway for the Yarmouth Mariners camp that begins Aug. 26.
“I’m obviously really excited,” says returning head coach Laurie Barron. “We’ve got some returning players that played well last year and we’re looking for them to be even better this year. And then we’ve brought in, between the draft and free agency, a bunch of new blood. We really like the direction we’re heading in.”
Training camp is a competitive process. Camp will start with 40 to 45 players, but it will pretty quickly get trimmed to around 28 to 30 players. Players will have to prove themselves from the outset if they want to stick around.
“It’s a simple add and subtract,” says Barron. “They have 72 hours to prove they want to be with us.”
While the Ramblers finished in fifth place in their MHL division last year, the Mariners were in last place. Neither team wants to see that happen again.
“We’re selling it that we’re going to be better and we’re going to be in the thick of it,” Barron says. “I think there will be a lot of interest.”
Asked what area in particular needs work, he says, “One of the biggest things is we wanted to build on the back end. Right now we’ve got 17 or 18 defencemen coming to camp, which is a big number, but we feel that’s one of the areas we need to shore up.”
“We think goalie Leif Hertz is a big-time goaltender, but we need to surround him with more depth and defence so he sees less pucks,” Barron says.
Between the pipes, the Mariners are expecting five goalies at camp.
As for when the Mariners and Ramblers will meet each other in the regular season, that doesn’t happen until Oct. 7 when Yarmouth hosts Amherst.
Although it’ll be a long drive, LeBlanc says the Mariners Centre, which often sees 1,300 to 1,500 fans per game, is a good final destination for visiting teams.
“I do always love going there,” he says. “It’s a very good atmosphere.”
The Yarmouth Mariners and the Amherst Ramblers will both play exhibit games during training camp.
For the Mariners, they’ll have a home-and- home series with both the Valley Wildcats and the South Shore Lumberjacks.
The Ramblers have five exhibition games lined up. They’ll be playing a home-and-home against Dieppe and will also host Summerside. They’ll wrap up their training camp with two games against Miramichi.
Training camp schedules, including exhibition games, will be posted on the team websites: Yarmouth Mariners & Amherst Ramblers.