The Brantford Blast are quickly throwing kindling on a new rivalry to kick off the Allan Cup Hockey season this week.
The Ontario Hockey Association’s senior league lost the Norwood Vipers franchise during the offseason, but Blast general manager Peter Ham is happy to see the Welland Whalers join the fray.
The Blast will kick off its season in Welland on Saturday night with a roster that is largely intact from last season.
“We have our upper echelon crew – our top hockey players – all coming back,” Ham said. “And to that we’ve added a lot of new blood.”
The team added defencemen Scott Duncan and Mike Burgoyne, who both started the year with Brantford last season before being signed to play professional hockey elsewhere.
Anthony Marshall, who was in goal for the Blast’s 2008 Allan Cup victory on home ice, joins Ben Thomas and Brett Leggat to strengthen the team’s goaltending.
Cam Sault and Chris Rebernik are both expected to boost the team’s scoring.
And young players like Brantford’s Paul Gallucci are going to bring new energy to the team.
Gallucci, 21, joins the Blast after aging out of junior hockey this season. He played for the Brantford Golden Eagles last season before the Junior B team left town.
“I got a taste of what it was like to play in my hometown last year,” Gallucci said. “I was debating if I was going to keep playing hockey or just focus on school in my fourth year at Laurier Brantford. But I went to a tryout and talked to Peter Ham. After that I was eager to join the team.”
The Blast are returning the player-coach model from last season, but it’s Burgoyne who will be the bench boss and defenceman on the ice.
“I’m looking forward to the first game to see how it goes,” Burgoyne said. “I’ve been thinking about getting into coaching after playing. Now I get to do both.”
Burgoyne said he relies on systems as a coach, but has a laid back style that allows for players to be creative within the given system.
He thinks the team has potential to be pretty dangerous if the players stick to the game plan.
Ham said every Blast home game will feature a different charity on display in the lobby as once again the team takes up the mantle of providing a community-oriented, family-friendly environment.
“We want to play fast, tough, hard-hitting, entertaining hockey,” he said. “It’s more than just a hockey game. It’s entertainment, being a part of the community and helping to build the community. All these guys know that they are here to play hockey, but they have to pitch in and help the community in any way they can.”
The Blast’s first home game of the season is next Friday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. and will feature a “pink the rink” promotion. Fans are encouraged to wear pink in support of the Canadian Cancer Society. A portion of proceeds from the game will be donated.
The game will be the second of a home-and-home set to kick off the new season against the franchise from Welland.
As a new member of the team and a player coming off a season that ended in a provincial championship series with the Golden Eagles, Gallucci sees a lot of potential in the Blast.
“You can see the chemistry on the ice between the guys who have played together before,” he said. “From my point of view, I think we’ll do really well.”