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Norwich Merchants prepare for new junior hockey season

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Summer may still be in full swing, but the focus for the Norwich Merchants has been on the ice. The team has been holding training camp since Aug. 9 with a mix of veterans and young hopefuls looking to crack the squad for the upcoming season - one that will see a change behind the bench.

Ed Dove, who has been an assistant coach over the past three seasons, will take the reigns as head coach with former Merchant defenseman, Kevin Kuehl, helping out with assistant coaching duties. Dove says he hopes to build on last year's season that saw Norwich make it to the Mid-Western Junior C finals before falling to Ayr. He expects the team to be a close-knit, hard working squad that competes every night.

Dove, who as coached alongside Blaine Schell and Dave Smith over the past three years, says he has had the good fortune of coaching under them and plans on bringing their influences into his coaching style. The biggest thing he wants to continue that he saw under both Schell and Smith is their passion and competitive spirit, a trait he too will bring forward. Dove also says he will use both his mentors as a resource for the upcoming season.

Dove and Kuehl's first chance to see some of the young hopefuls in action was on Saturday when the squad traveled to Aylmer for a pre-season tilt against the Spitfires. After a quiet first period, the tide turned wild in the second with a boatload of goals. The Spits kicked off the scoring 2:48 into the period before Derek Slaght answered back 2:54 later. Norwich took their first lead of the game mid-way through thanks to an Owen Sullivan tally before Aylmer knotted the game at deuces 54 seconds later. Daniel Rizzo doubled the lead for Norwich by potting two goals in a 12-second span to close the period. Aylmer added one more in the third, but Norwich held on for the 4-3 win. Noah Burns, Brett Verschuren, Harlen VanWynsberghe, Jordan Everets and Dylan Smart recorded assists while Andrew Hawkins made 12 saves and Cam Gratton 13 in the win.

Norwich will take on these same Spitfires on Friday night at 8 p.m. before hosting New Hamburg on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Norwich will close out their pre-season on Sept. 4 in New Hamburg at 7:30 p.m. before the regular season opens at home on Sept. 11 against the team that knocked Norwich out last year – the Ayr Centennials.

When asked if taking on Ayr right off the bat is a positive or negative, Dove says he's asked to take on the Mid-Western champions immediately as the game can be used as a measuring stick to see how Norwich matches up against one of the top and most respected teams in the MWJCHL.

On Sept. 11, Dove say fans should expect to see a hard-working team with a fast paced tempo that fans can rally behind and be entertained by and finally Dove says he is anxious to get the season going. He says he is fortunate to have Kuehl on board this season, who can bring his experience and no-nonsense approach to the game. Dove has the support of the executive and believes the fans will see a competitive team out of Norwich this season.

OVERTIME

Season passes are now available. $110 will get you into both exhibition home games, the 20 regular season home games as well as both fish frys that are held in November and April. Contact any Merchant executive for further details.

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