Val Johnston is attending to some unfinished business.
The 19-year-old forward had a restricted role with the Welland Jr. Canadians last season, owing to a lingering ankle injury. Now, seemingly restored to optimal health and among the select few veteran players on the team, Johnston is driven to advance his own career and is poised to undertake a pivotal role in the forthcoming season.
During the opening weekend of the 2023/2024 Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) season, he notched one goal and facilitated four assists. This impressive start unfolded during a weekend where the Jr. Canadians engaged in the demanding task of playing three consecutive games over as many nights.
“We also strive for two points, but I’m content with not only my individual performance but also how the team performed,” says Johnston. “Playing three games in as many nights to open a season is a dauting task, and given the many fresh faces in our team, I believe our team handled it commendably.”
Last season, Johnston participated in 11 games for the Jr. Canadians following a short tenure with the Burlington Cougars in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL).
“I felt a sense of dissatisfaction with how last year unfolded,” says Johnston. “I knew I had more to offer, and I am determined to make this season a redemption story.”
Head Coach Don Herrington firmly believes that Johnston will play a vital role for the team, contributing not only on the ice but also a significant presence off it.
“He’ll spearhead our offensive efforts this season,” says Herrington. “While his performance on the ice this weekend was impressive, I also anticipate he’ll provide excellent leadership within the locker room, particularly for our newcomers.”
Johnston notched an assistant on the first three goals of the season, netted by Carter Timmins, Dustin Larivere and our Welland Fire Department Player of the Game, Kai Skilbeck, respectively. The insurance goal, securing the victory, came late in the third period courtesy of Jack Ryan. Between the pipes, Ethan Labbe made an impressive 33 saves in goal to seal the 4-2 win against the Pelham Panthers. Additional assists were contributed by Joey Marrese, Liam Legault, Cooper Reid and Jeremy Alexander.
“You naturally have concerns opening the season on an opponent’s ice, but the team stuck to the game plan and reaped the rewards of their hard work,” says Herrington. “I believed our performance, from Ethan to the defense all the way to the forward lines, was outstanding.”
The following night, in Caledonia, Johnston found the back of the net for the Jr. Canadians, leveling the score at one early in the second period. However, the Corvairs managed to secure two goals in the second period and added two more in the third, ultimately winning the game with a score of 5-1. Matthew Coates provided the sole assist, while Stanley Mannell made an impressive 49 saves in a hard-fought but losing effort.
The action-packed weekend reached its zenith as the Jr. Canadians took center stage for their home opener against the newly-introduced Port Colborne Sailors. Showing signs of fatigue from the busy weekend, the Jr. Canadians found themselves conceding four crucial goals in the third period, ultimately leading to the Sailors 6-3 victory. Notably, a staggering seven of the game’s nine goals unfolded in the dramatic third period. For the Jr. Canadians, on the scoring front was Coates, Nico Kalpakis and Adam Bignucolo, with contributions from Nyklus Madere, Johnston, Ryan, Reid, Coates and Timmins. Ethan Labbe, guarding the net, made 38 saves in goal.
“This weekend served as a valuable learning experience for both our team and our coaching staff,” says Herrington. “It reinforced the importance of resilience, adaptability and working together as a cohesive unit.”
“We’re now better prepared to face whatever challenges lie ahead in the season.”
The upcoming challenge on the horizon for the Jr. Canadians is inter-conference competition as they hit the road to Elmira for the GOJHL Showcase tournament. During this tournament, they will go head-to-head with formidable opponents, the Cambridge RedHawks and the Brantford Bandits.