Story by Jeff Gard
Starting a new senior A hockey team during a pandemic is exciting, but not without its challenges.
Just ask Johnny Desjardins, the general manager of the Tweed Oil Kings, one of the newest entries into the Eastern Ontario Super Hockey League.
“It’s the first year so we are going to have some growing pains and I can guarantee you I’ve had some ups-and-downs myself just trying to get guys to play and to make a commitment,” Desjardins said. “It’s been a struggle when you think you have somebody and then all of a sudden they can’t play for certain reasons.”
Desjardins is certainly pleased with the players he was able to sign leading up to the start of the 2021-22 EOSHL season. They include Murray Free, Dan Atkinson, Andrew Rhynold and Devin McCann.
Free, who is from Campbellford, played junior A hockey in Port Hope and Lindsay while getting some OHL game action with the Oshawa Generals as well. He later played senior hockey with the Norwood Vipers and Whitby Dunlops.
Atkinson, who now lives in Cobourg, has previous senior hockey experience with the Shelburne Muskies and played university hockey for the Nottingham Mavericks in the United Kingdom.
Rhynold played some junior A hockey with Port Hope and Ajax and junior C hockey with the former Colborne Cobras.
McCann, who is from Trenton and a product of the Quinte Red Devils, played four seasons with the Picton Pirates junior C club.
Building a strong staff was also important and Desjardins believes the Oil Kings have accomplished that objective.
Troy Ward, a retired paramedic, was hired as head coach along with assistants Lou Crawford and Tom Clement. Ward played junior hockey for Bob Hartley in Hawksbury. Before that, he played junior C hockey in Madoc and was a teammate of Desjardins and Clement.
Crawford, who coached the Belleville Bulls to the OHL championship in 1999, also has commitments as a scout for the Vancouver Canucks, but will bring a wealth of knowledge to the new club in Tweed.
“We have lots of good guys and as a player you won’t have any more fun than with us, I can tell you that,” Desjardins said, noting he retired last December and accepted the offer to take on the GM role when it was presented it to him.
“I can you in Tweed they’re really excited about it. The team is owned by the municipality so it makes it kind of unique.”
There’s no expense to taxpayers, Desjardins added, as the team is funded through money that has been raised through sponsorship, advertising and game day ticket sales.
Home games are played at 2 p.m. on Sundays and Desjardins believes players will appreciate playing in a small community.
“Some guys that haven’t been to Tweed, but (residents) will welcome them,” Desjardins said. “They’ll think they’re great because they’re playing in Tweed and they don’t even know them yet.”