There’s a lot in store for the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs.
Head coach Rick Swan believes the Pontiacs have a great season a head of them, and has been working hard to assemble a strong team.
“Last year, we went through a unique process that we’ve never done before, and that was to go very young. It was my philosophy that if we go young, we develop our players from within, and with our young players, put them in situation they may not normally get as a 16, 17, and 18-year-old. Then, we would be developing their growth as players and make them better for this year,” he explained.
Swan noted the transactions made last year due to his process have allowed the team to form an exciting roster that’s very talented and skilled.
“It will allow us to sling shot higher in terms of how competitive we are in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) than we’ve ever been before in franchise history.”
He added, “We built our team through those transactions, because we were able to hand-select the kids that we want, versus having a camp and trying to pick kids that have potential to be good players. We were able to build our team our way.”
The Pontiacs decided to make changes in hopes of having a better season, and to take the next step as an organization to improve on their previous results.
“In the last five years, we’ve had 40 wins and ended up in third place. Teams around us have had 42 and 45 wins, and they’ve had great seasons. We’ve broken franchise records for being the first team ever, in the North Division final, and yet we just fell short. Those records are great, though our personal and organizational standards are higher than they’ve ever been before.”
Swan noted their 12-month plan from last year put them in the situation that they are for the upcoming season, and they’re going to have a strongly talented and skilled roster.
Along with new faces on the bench, the Pontiacs decided to rebrand the team with a new logo.
“What better time than to go with a new logo and new colours, a fresh new look as a result of going through the process last year,” Swan expressed.
He noted, the feedback from the community has been positive, and everyone loves the way the logo combines the old with the new.
“The Pontiac head is changed the other way, looking forward to the future versus looking back at the past. It was a great opportunity to brand the Bonnyville Pontaics, to create some interest and excitement, not only in the new look, but in the game that we’ve built that’s going to be special this year.”
Along with the changes to their roster and image, the Pontiacs announced that TJ Millar will be the new assistant coach.
“He’s young, enthusiastic, and he’s got some exiting new concepts, ideas, and views,” Swan said.
Millar was the assistant coach for the Nipawin Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) for the past two seasons. He said the Pontiacs are going to surprise their fans and opponents this season.
“We’re going to be one of those teams that’s going to be a force to be reckoned with,” he explained. “We got a lot of guys coming in with a lot of experience, and we’re going to turn some heads.”
Bonnyville left a lasting impression on Millar during his time as a player for the Calgary Canucks, and remembers the atmosphere on game day.
“I came up to Bonnyville for a regular season game, but unfortunately I didn’t play. I’m familiar with the Bonnyville area, and the atmosphere of how the rink is on a game day. It was exciting. It’s actually one of the games that I remember fondly,” he recalls.
Millar is most excited to step-in as acting head coach while Swan leads Team Canada West during the World Junior A Challenge (WJAC) in December. Millar sees the challenge as something he’s eager to take on.
Both Millar and Swan are excited for the new season to start.
“I hope it’s our best season ever. I always hope its our best season ever, but, I’m more optimistic this year we’ll be able to do that with the team that we’ve got,” said Swan.
Camp for the Pontiacs will kick-off on Aug. 21 and will have 40 players participating.
The puck will drop on the first exhibition game of the season on Aug. 28 against the Llyodminster Bobcats.
The Pontiacs home-opener is two days later on Aug. 30th when they face-off against the Bobcats on home ice.
Due to ice issues with the R.J. Lalonde Arena, the camp and first exhibition game will take place at the Frog Lake arena.