The Covid-19 pandemic has put the upcoming GOJHL season in jeopardy, but with the league office still aiming for a December 2nd puck drop, the Caledon Bombers are preparing for this unprecedented season just like any other. The Bombers find themselves in a new city, a new home rink, Mayfield Arena, and ready for a new era of Bombers hockey.
The 2020-21 GOJHL season holds high hopes for the Bombers who have seven returning players. This group includes right winger Remy Dalben who is entering his fourth season, left winger Andrew Reynolds, along with centre Nicholas Rotatore and 18-year-old left winger, Cameron Shepheard. Rounding out the returnees are three defencemen: Michael Asselin, Ivan Mikuljan and Trevor Stamegna.
Head coach Chris Taylor is very impressed with the veteran corps of players the Bombers have added.
“The coaching staff and I are excited about the season. Robin Inscoe, our general manager, did a great job this off-season acquiring proven veterans along with retaining a good core of players from last season.”
Taylor said there is a different mood around the team in what will be his first full season as Bombers head coach.
“Obviously we haven’t played a game yet, but it feels like a different culture already. The boys want to be at the rink, they want to be with this team and they’re itching to start the season.”
Although the GOJHL has not yet released a schedule, Taylor said the Bombers will be ready for puck drop come opening night: “I expect a different Bombers team once we get going.”
The Bombers have also added two new coaches to the staff. Adam Putnam will handle the defensive duties behind the Bombers bench and Todd Bannerman, a former teammate of Taylor’s and assistant coach Aaron Duggan with the Cambridge Winter Hawks when the club captured the Cherrey Cup title in 2012-13, will look after video this season.
“This has to be the most exciting group I’ve been with in my three years as a Bomber.” said Rotatore. “The team is loaded with veterans and a lot of us are close off the ice which is massive for chemistry within the team and that’s something I can’t wait to be a part of.”
This Bombers team reminds the third-year forward of the Kitchener Dutchmen team that ousted the Bombers in five games of the GOJHL Playoffs last season.
“I think a lot about that Kitchener team we played in the playoffs last year; they were an experienced team that was loaded with veterans and we had a team of 17 rookies and we were still able to steal a game in their barn and had a real good shot to win Game 2 as well. I think the depth of age and skill we have throughout the lineup from the crease on up is very strong.”
Rotatore has high aspirations for this Bombers squad heading into the season.
“We’re a team that plans on contending for the Cherrey Cup and beyond this season. We have a ton of guys who want to prove people wrong and I think we have the veteran talent and grit to do so.”
In addition to the seven returning players, the Bombers have made some key moves bringing in veteran talent. Centre Tyler Bortkiewicz, 18, returns to the Bombers after spending a year in the Ontario Junior Hockey League with the Milton Menace.
“I’m excited to be back with this group,” said Bortkiewicz who appeared in 52 games for the Menace recording eight goals and 14 points. In his first season as a Bomber, he recorded eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points in 48 games.
“I think we put together a strong team and we’re ready to get started. It was an easy decision to come back, I’m close friends with a lot of the guys here and getting to play with Reynolds and Shepheard is an added bonus.”
Overage goaltender Travis Smith is back for his second stint with the Bombers after two seasons with the Brampton Admirals, the Bombers’ Jr. A affiliate. Smith appeared in 76 career games with the Admirals posting a .908 save percentage to go along with 26 wins. Smith figures to be a crucial part of the Bombers success this season.
“I got to play with Travis in my first year and he was a key piece of our team that year.” said Dalben
“He held us in games when we were down and he stole games for us by keeping the puck out of our net. Having him back will take a ton of pressure off the rest of the team knowing we have arguably the best goalie in our conference.”
Domenic Divincentiis, 16, joins the Bombers from the Vaughan Kings U-16 program and was selected in the sixth round of this year’s Ontario Hockey League Draft by the North Bay Battalion. He was one of three Ontario goaltenders to be invited to Team Canada’s virtual U-17 Development Program.
The Bombers will be carrying extra skaters and an extra goaltender as teams will not be permitted to have call-up players due to the pandemic. Luca Del Rizzo fills the third goaltender slot after spending a year with the Delhi Travellers of the Provincial Junior Hockey League.
The Bombers have brought back two other players who both suited up for the Jr. C Caledon Golden Hawks, another Bombers affiliate, last season.
Overage forwards Marc Bottero and Daniel Butt return to the Bombers after having outstanding seasons with the Golden Hawks. In 42 games, Bottero recorded 27 goals and 16 assists for 43 points.
“I am extremely excited to be back with the Bombers,” Bottero said. “I think we have a solid core and I’ll be able to contribute both offensively and physically.”
Butt tallied 25 goals and 16 assists for 41 points in as many games.
“It feels amazing to be back, I’ve been working really hard to make it back here. I’m looking forward to getting going with the guys; we have a great group and I feel we can accomplish a lot.”
Other additions the Bombers have made include the acquisition of 19-year-old defenseman Ben McChesney, a Burlington, Ont. native who recorded 23 points in 46 games for the Pelham Panthers last season. Centre Mauro Biasutto, 19, joins the Bombers after registering 29 points in 85 games over two seasons with the Aurora Tigers of the OJHL.
Overage defenseman Riley Valade returns to the Arsenault Hockey Group after suiting up for the Menace during the 2019-20 campaign. Valade skated with the Jr. A Orangeville Flyers in 2017-18 and appeared in six games the following season with the Admirals. Valade has appeared in 127 OJHL games with the Flyers, Admirals, Menace and Newmarket Hurricanes.
“Having played Jr. A with some good teams over the last three seasons, I think I can bring leadership and a consistent defensive effort. We have a lot of experience on this team and I think we have really solid team that has a great shot at making a deep playoff run.”
The rest of the Bombers roster is comprised of left wingers, Joel Dieleman and Jonah Jacksteit, 16-year-old right winger Owen Kerr and centres Nolan Milne and Jeriah Shantz, defencemen Cameron Henderson, Darius Lasola and Dawson Leduc.
Reynolds will be the ninth captain in Bombers history. The remainder of the Bombers leadership group is comprised of Asselin, Dalben and Rotatore.