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New players bring size, skill to Grizzlys

Bigger isn’t always better, unless it involves the Olds Grizzlys.

The Grizzlys have turned their season around with a few recent acquisitions and head coach/director of hockey operations Brett Hopfe is hopeful that his club is on track to becoming an Alberta Junior Hockey League contender.

Hopfe’s crew is much improved since snapping an eight-game losing streak that stretched into mid-November and he attributes that partly to the addition of larger players with leadership qualities and varying degrees of skill.

“Some of the moves we made here as of late have helped out. We wanted to get bigger and keep our skill set and I think that we’ve accomplished that,” said the Grizzlys bench boss, whose 15-17-2 club occupies fifth place in the eight-team South Division heading into tonight’s 7:30 p.m. with the visiting Drumheller Dragons.

In the past month, Hopfe has traded for forwards Matt Marcinew, Damien Kulynych and JC Heck, as well as defenceman Marc Eremenko.

The five-foot-nine Marcinew is the exception in regards to size, but the former Lloydminster Bobcat — acquired in return for Red Deer native Tanner Dunkle — is the Grizzlys’ second-leading scorer with 32 points (19-13) and has eight goals and 15 points in 12 games with Olds.

Former Calgary Mustang Kulynych, at five-foot-11 and 200 pounds, brings power and offence (11-16-27), while the six-foot-one, 195-pound Heck — formerly of the Sherwood Park Crusaders — is an effective shift disturber with two goals and 36 penalty minutes in seven games with his new club. Eremenko, acquired from Port Alberni of the BCHL, is a six-foot-three, 195-pound stay-at-home defender.

The new players have brought more than talent and physical attributes to the Grizzlys. They’ve also helped restore confidence to the Olds dressing room, although the club’s success has also played a big role in that regard.

“The guys seem very excited just to be at the rink,” said Hopfe. “One thing we wanted to do is add character. A guy like JC Heck might not be the most skilled player out there but his first day here he became everyone’s best friend in the locker room. That goes a long ways. I can’t say enough about the guys that we’ve acquired . . . just their character and how much they’ve led our team in just a few short weeks. We’re very happy with those players.”

The Grizzlys’ goaltending situation is in a better place than was the case earlier in the season. Olds native Ethan Jemieff has become as the club’s starter and owns a 3.25 goals-against average and .898 save percentage.

“We’ve straightened some things out and we’ve made some moves on that side of things as well,” said Hopfe, who acquired back-up ‘tender Jake Tamagi in the Kulynych deal.

“Ethan has played very well as of late. When you look back, once he took that (starter’s job) over he maybe had a bit of a slide, although I felt like we were giving up more opportunities during that time. Since we made a few moves to try to shake things up, he’s responded very well and has played very well.”

Meanwhile, the Grizzlys are getting big years out of veteran forwards Brandon Clowes (21-17-38) and Dylan Hubbs (11-21-32) who sit seventh and 12th in league scoring, as well as the likes of Marcinew (10th in AJHL scoring), captain Bart Moran (8-19-27) and Spencer Dorowicz (10-14-24).

The Grizzlys have to continue to focus on their consistency and work on their power play, said Hopfe.

“We always have to work on playing 60 minutes, that’s a struggle in junior hockey in general,” said Hopfe. “We try to teach these guys to learn from their experiences. We had a game here a few weeks ago against Brooks (6-2 loss to the Bandits on Nov. 23) where we felt we outplayed them. But we took three or four minutes off and they scored five goals.”

As for the team’s man-advantage play . . .

“Our power play has struggled but when you look at the points our players are putting up without getting many power-play goals, it’s amazing,” said Hopfe. “Our power play hasn’t been horrible, it seems like we’re dominating sometimes but the puck is just not going in the net.

“Once we figure that out and pucks start going in, we’re going to be a very dangerous team.”



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