St. Stephen Aces Jr. A Hockey Club

Aces leadership sets lofty goals for MHL’s second half

It will be a new-look St. Stephen Aces team that takes the ice for the second half of the Maritime Hockey League season.

The third-year club will be in tough to gain ground and battle into a playoff spot but that’s exactly the goal the Aces have set for themselves.

“With the recent additions over the last few days I feel our team is better now than we were last game and our future is bright,” said Head Coach and General Manager Josh Hepditch.

The Aces added some big pieces in forwards Casey Fox and Alex Lafreniere and defenceman Jackson Atkinson. The team also parted ways with forwards Fred Dubuc and Chris Bamford.

Hepditch said the deals the Aces made leading up to Tuesday’s MHL trade deadline were unique – they will help the team now and in the future.

“Every year, every team has different goals during the trade period. Some teams look to stack up, some look to unload. We had the opportunity to add a few good pieces to our team now and help our future in the process,” he said.

In its first two seasons, the Aces loaded up on draft picks, sacrificing short-term success to build a solid foundation as an expansion team. That patience is paying off and the picks in the cupboard are being cashed in for young players who will form the core of the Aces for several years.

Hepditch assessed the newest Aces.

CASEY FOX

Casey played Midget AAA in Fredericton and has improved every year. I like the way he plays the game with speed and a nose for the net. He was fifth in goals with Summerside – and that team has some good offensive players. Only being 18 makes him even more appealing to our team.

ALEX LAFRENIERE

Alex is excited to be in St. Stephen and this also helps him remain close to Saint John as he is affiliated with the Sea Dogs. Alex played last season with the Saint John Vito’s and was big part of a team that won Provincial and Atlantic titles and also had a great run at the Telus Cup, losing in the final game. That is experience you can’t teach. You learn such valuable lessons playing on championship teams. Alex will be able to step right in and add some offence to our group.

JACKSON ATKINSON

Jackson is a 20-year-old who will bring some good leadership to our dressing room. He’s a 6’3 D man who will play tough in our zone and bring some stability to our back end. When you have a young group, it’s important to have some good leaders. Having Jackson join us and add to our leadership group with Ricky Young, Nathan Ellsworth and Kyle Michalovsky will make a big difference.

As of Wednesday, the Aces were nine points behind Woodstock for the final playoff spot in the EastLink North Division and five points behind Campbellton for fifth place in the division. Hepditch said it’s time for the Aces to push themselves out of the MHL basement.

“Our goal right now is to just find a way to get into the playoffs and then we will look at our next goals. Absolutely it’s going to be tough but I like our group and we will push until the last game.”

He’s hoping the schedule will help the Aces make their push.

“We have lots of divisional games left in the second half and a ton of home games down the stretch which we are really looking to use to our advantage,” Hepditch said. “I am really excited for the second half with this group.”

With an uphill battle, the key is to take one step at a time and focus on the immediate tasks at hand.

“All we can do is worry about our own team and try and get some wins. We’re hoping we can find a way to get on a little bit of a hot streak and put some wins together,” he said.

The first test comes Friday, Jan. 13 when the Miramichi Timberwolves visit the Garcelon Civic Center. In addition to former Aces Matt McInnis, Curtis Hastings and Lucas McKay, the Timberwolves have a solid group that’s gunning for an MHL championship.

“There is no doubt we will be looking to use our speed and skill to make us successful,” Hepditch said. “We will need to be hard to play against every night and you do that by taking away time and space in all three zones.”

Hepditch said the defence is well suited to keep up with the speed and skill up front.

“Our D group is very mobile and can all control the puck. Every guy back there is capable of moving the puck and joining the rush. I really like our D-core and how they have developed over the year. They’re active with and without the puck and are really learning to play a fast paced game.”