Story by Jeff Gard
Eastern Ontario Super Hockey League action has returned and grown since the last time teams played.
Four teams, including the Deseronto Bulldogs, competed in the inaugural 2019-20 campaign, but the EOSHL has now expanded to 12 teams for the 2021-22 season.
The Bulldogs are looking to take strides forward after almost upsetting the eventual champion Cornwall Prowlers in 2020. Deseronto (4-12-1-1) won the best-of-three semifinal opener before Cornwall (13-2-0-1) was victorious in two straight. The West Carleton Riverman, which lost the final in five games to Cornwall, and the Maxville Millionaires now known as the Mustangs, were the other two entries for the new senior A’ hockey league.
Those four teams are now joined by the Tweed Oil Kings, Smiths Falls Rideaus, Gananoque Islanders, Frontenac Phantoms, South Grenville Rangers, Glengarry Pipers, Bytown Royals and North Dundas Rockets.
Bulldogs owner and president Landon Punchard, who also plays, said the inaugural season “was a complete success” and the team is excited to be back.
“We knew going into it that Deseronto was a hockey town with lots of very passionate fans,” Punchard said. “The support we got from the community was absolutely amazing. We were successful on the ice as well in the fact that we improved as a team from the start of the year to the finish. We feel that in our first year we could’ve won the championship. We’ve added some very important pieces moving forward. The league has also grown to three times the size. We’re confident we have a championship team this year as well.”
Losing a full season certainly meant some lost momentum for the Bulldogs.
“It was very disappointing. Our first year was kind of an opportunity to prove ourselves to the local area and show the product that we’re trying to build on the ice and establish ourselves in the league,” Punchard said. “There was a lot of excitement and hype going into our second year. Our following grew tremendously and we grew on the ice as well.”
Some key returning players include Will Lamoureux, Chris Rogalsky, Craig Cross, Joey Mayer, Cullen Hinds, Jordan Cannon and Brett Maracle as well as goaltender Graeme Gemmill, who is also one of the team owners.
Lamoureux was one of the players who got called up during the Bulldogs inaugural season to play for the Watertown Wolves of the Federal Prospects Hockey League. Deseronto has an affiliation agreement with the semi-pro Watertown club.
Since the Bulldogs last played, they have signed former Belleville Bull Brody Morris, former junior A player Brodie Butt (Trenton/Wellington/Yarmouth), former Napanee Raiders Brodie Maracle and Evan Foley, former Amherstview Jet Cody Smith and former Picton Pirate Griffen Conger.
“We’re extremely excited about the 30 guys that we have signed moving forward,” Punchard said.
The same goes for the staff, including head coach Steve Durnan and assistant coach Brandon Tucker.
Punchard gave a special shoutout to announcer Richard Crouse. “He’s a guy that’s been there since day one,” he said. “He’s a huge supporter of our team and does an amazing job announcing at our games. He does a lot behind the scenes as well.”
Even when Punchard and Gemmill were painting the club’s dressing room prior to the start of the first season, Crouse was there to help
“Any little things we need help with, he lives and breathes Deseronto Bulldogs hockey,” Punchard said.
Deseronto Bulldogs home games are scheduled for Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons. All EOSHL games are played during the weekends in order to provide the players the opportunity for a balance between work and hockey.
“That’s what our league is all about. It’s an opportunity for guys that are working Monday to Friday full-time jobs that still have that competitive edge to be able to play competitive hockey every week,” Punchard said. “We only play one game a week so it works out well for a guy that works a full-time job.”
It’s also a great opportunity for hockey fans to watch players from a variety of different leagues and backgrounds come together. Players from the league’s teams have competed in major junior, junior A, junior C, Canadian university, NCAA and even some with NHL experience.
It’s exciting hockey,” Punchard remarked. “It’s awesome that we’re able to provide this type of hockey with the following that we do have because it’s important to the guys that play for us.”