Chatham Maroons mid-season review

This mid-season review of the Chatham Maroons will probably be over 1,000 words, but I could have probably summed up their season so far in one 65-word paragraph.

The Maroons started the season looking like one of the league’s weaker team. With a tough schedule, a number of rookies finding their way, the Maroons started the season 2-8. Since then, the Maroons have been one of the league’s best teams with a 16-3-2 record, added a couple of veteran players and most of their younger players have shown they belong in the GOJHL.

I could stop now and you would get the gist of the Maroons’ season. But let’s hand out some mid-season awards to make it interesting.

Most valuable player: I am going to go with defenceman Blain Bacik. Bacik has done a little bit of everything for the Maroons. When they needed an offensive defenceman who can run the power play, he did that role. When they needed a defensive defenceman who needed to stay back and calm things down, he did that. When teams start to get physical and they need someone to step up and defend teammates, Bacik also takes on that role. Bacik has played well over the first half of the season.

Jaxen Fortier-Smith is usually Bacik’s defensive partner and the pair have seen a lot of ice time. Fortier-Smith is also having a strong season and there is no other player as exciting in the open ice.

The easy pick is for MVP is David Brown, and he will likely earn that award at the end of the season. Brown rejoined the team on Oct. 15 after starting the season with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit. Pre-Brown the Maroons were struggling, post-Brown the Maroons started to gain confidence. A hockey team is not just one player, but Brown has made a huge difference.

Most improved: I could easily take this trophy and chop it up into 10-12 pieces and give it to a dozen players. Let’s give it to the Maroons’ coaches for their role in developing the team’s young core.

Hopefully, I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes here, but there has been a marked improvement in numerous player’s games in just a couple of months.

I saw one of the Maroons’ early-season games and pegged this team as a development team, with 9-10 rookies and a handful of other young 17-year-old players. I’ve watched most of their home games in November and December and the development of the young players has been one of the best things to watch.

Rorey Elson has been a revelation over the past month. His game has always been about energy, but he’s really playing well. In the last six games he has six goals and four assists for 10 points. In his first 17 games of the season he had four points. It’s always fun as a fan to see a player unlock his potential and have some success.

Owen Kalp is another second-year player who is playing really well. Steady defencemen who rarely make mistakes usually don’t get a lot of attention, but Kalp has looked smooth over the past six weeks or so. It’s also nice to see his development.

Goalie Tommy O’Donnell just had a December to remember. He won all five games he started, and has really played well over the past month. Kaleb Papineau has also looked solid in net for the past six weeks.

Other development success stories include 16-year-olds Jacob Cloutier and Greydon Jones, as well as rookies Sam Warriner, Aidan Edwards, Josh Cleary, Cale Marontate and Tyler McGuire.

If you want to point to a reason for the Maroons’ success, the development of their young players is probably something that should not be overlooked.

Second-half preview: This year’s Maroon team is similar to the 2022 team that won the GOJHL Western Division. The 2022 team was young and developed over the season. The 2022 team had a number of players who used their time on the Maroons to move on to Junior A Tier I teams across Canada.

This team is young. The Maroons don’t have any 20 year-old players, which is a rarity in the GOJHL. Chatham is the only team in the Western Conference without a 20 year-old on their roster. They only have five 19 year-olds on their roster currently, (Aidan Hill, Ayden McKinlay, Brendan Gouin, Tommy McDonnell and Brody Gillis).

The Maroons have been the best team in the Western Conference over the past nine weeks or so. There’s no reason to believe the team’s recent success is a fluke.

The Maroons play Friday, Jan. 5, in St. Thomas. They host Strathroy on Sunday, Jan. 7.

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