Whoever said that hosting Canada’s National Midget Championship would bring additional pressure certainly didn’t tell the Saint John Vito’s.
Nine games into the New Brunswick/Prince Edward Island Major Midget Hockey League regular season, the Vito’s are off to a red-hot start, opening the
campaign with a six-game winning streak and losing just once in the first month.
An 8-3 thumping at the hands of the Fredericton Caps ended the Vito’s perfect start, but it was just a small bump in the road for the TELUS Cup hosts.
Despite the five-goal defeat, Saint John is outscoring its opponents by more than two goals on average, scoring at a 4.67-goals-per-game clip and allowing
just 2.11 per contest, both good for second-best in the NBPEIMMHL.
“It’s been great; we’re really happy with the way we started things,” says Ken Dobson, the Vito’s head coach. “We have a lot of individual talent, our
offense is generating some great opportunities and our special teams are performing well.”
After finishing as the team’s top scorer last season, sophomore Anderson MacDonald is once again leading the way for the Vito’s; he’s recorded a point in
each of the six games he’s played, and his 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) leaves him second in the league scoring race.
MacDonald has been at his best in his last four games, accumulating six goals and five assists over that span.
Newcomer Alex Lafrenière has also excelled for the Vitos, ranking second in team scoring with 12 points (seven goals, five assists) and sharing the
team-lead with MacDonald thanks to his seven tallies.
At the other end of the ice, Saint John has been supported by the league’s hottest goaltending tandem.
Both Michael Parkhill and Jacob Stewart were members of the Vito’s last season, and have been exceptional to start 2015-16; Parkhill (4-0) and Stewart
(4-1) lead the league with four wins apiece, and both rank among the top five in goals-against average among netminders with at least 120 minutes played.
“We feel Jake is a top-12 goaltender in the country for his age group and if he hadn’t injured himself at summer [under-17] camp, I think he’d be on one of
the three Canadian teams at the [World Under-17 Hockey Challenge] right now,” says Dobson.
“Mike has also made an impact for us in every game that he’s been in net. We want him to be as ready for the next level as possible and for that, he needs
to play as well.”
Dobson is open with his praise for Stewart as his No. 1 goaltender, but admits he’ll continue to give both netminders equal opportunity and equal minutes
for most of the season, allowing both to grow as players and get some rest prior to the postseason and the TELUS Cup run.
From a team perspective, the Vitos are excelling on special teams as well.
Not only are their 16 goals with the man advantage leading the league, but Saint John also has the fewest goals scored against them – just four – while
facing their opponent’s power play units.
And after finding the back of the net just three times in 35 games while shorthanded last season, the Vito’s have already matched that total with three
goals in nine games while a man down.
“Our penalty kill group is the same as it was last year,” says Dobson. “But being a year older makes them a little more talented, a little more confident
and that’s been reflected by the fact that we’ve been able to create some more scoring chances that we had a tough time creating in years past.”
One year ago, Saint John ran off an 8-1 month of November; can it repeat the feat in 2015, and take one more step towards front-door qualification as
NBPEIMMHL and Atlantic champions?