The Pembroke Lumber Kings are the most storied franchise in the Central Canada Hockey League. Because of that history, the Kings also garner the most media attention. Six members of the media who have watched the team all season long weigh in with their mid-season report cards.
Jamie Bramburger: Play by Play-Your TV (Cogeco)
Considering owner and head coach Alex Armstrong bought the Lumber Kings in June and has only two players from last year’s roster on the team, Brady Egan and William Neault, Armstrong deserves a lot of credit for icing a competitive squad. His move to affiliate the club with the North Bay Batallion of the Ontario Hockey League brought with it several solid players including goaltender Reece Proulx who has arguably been the Kings most valuable player during the first half of the season.Armstrong has demonstrated a willingness to make trades such as the blockbuster 9-player deal he made with his former team, the Smiths Falls Bears on Canada Day weekend. That trade has worked out very well, as all four players who came to Pembroke have contributed. Fletcher Anderson is leading the team in scoring, Jacob Shankar is the team’s captain and Alex and Anthony Urbisci have been solid role players.
Proulx is the backbone of the team. The Lumber Kings are vulnerable if he is injured or is again called up to play some games in the OHL as there are few quality goaltenders available who are willing to be a back up to one of the best goaltenders in the CCHL. Nick Beck may be that goalie, but we have only seen him once this season, albeit a fine performance against the league leading Carleton Place Canadians. The Lumber Kings have some solid defencemen but will have a crowded blue line if Ethan Emanual returns to the line-up. He is considered a blue chip player, but has not played since opening night of the season when he was injured.
The Kings could use some more offence but the powerplay continues to improve including an 8 goal performance with the man advantage in a November game versus the Bears. The team is good enough to do some damage in the playoffs if a few more pieces are added before the January 10th league trade deadline, if the club escapes any serious injuries and if Reece Proulx continues to hold down the fort between the pipes. That is a lot of if’s, but there is no question there is a strong nucleus in place and enough talent on the team that the Kings are positioned to be an unwanted opponent in the post-season.
Finally, there have been nights when the team hasn’t shown up for a full 60 minutes. If the players are committed to giving 100 percent on every shift, they can expect a lot more wins than losses in the second half of the season. A top four finish in the league is within reach, assuming the club continues to build on what has to be considered a successful first half of the season.
Jamie’s Report Card First Half Grade: B
Kyle Robinson-MY FM and Your TV Colour Commentator
With new ownership and coaching staff, the Pembroke Lumber Kings are heading in a completely different direction than they were one year ago. Owner and Head Coach Alex Armstrong purchased the team from Dale McTavish back in the summer. With that came the complete shift in one of junior hockey’s most beloved franchises. At the midway point of the season, there are only two players remaining on the Pembroke squad from last season.
Armstrong made an immediate splash by completing a multi-player trade with the Smiths Falls Bears, a team he coached prior to coming to Pembroke. To date, the trade has proved to be a key focal point in the new era of the Lumber Kings. Fletcher Anderson came hot out of the gate and remains the team’s leading scorer and Jacob Shankar was named team captain in training camp. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season has been between the pipes. Through the team’s new affiliation with the North Bay Battalion, goalie Reece Proulx came into the CCHL as an unknown. The 17-year old has posted a record of 14-14 in 29 games but has an incredible 2.85 GAA while sporting a 0.919 save percentage.
Another major improvement over last year is the special teams. The Lumber Kings power play has been more reliable and their penalty killing has proved to be a difference maker in tight games. Alex Armstrong has stated that he hoped to be a 500. team come the Christmas break. So far, the Kings are ahead of schedule with a record of 18-15 and sit 4th place in the Robinson Division. Is there more work to be done to make this team a solid contender? Absolutely. Armstrong has hinted at more roster moves as we inch closer to the January 10th trade deadline. Something he hopes to complete as soon as possible to solidify his line up heading into the second half of the season.
Kyle’s Report Card First Half Grade: B+
Tina Peplinski-Pembroke Observer and News
Going into the season, Hockey Town Canada did not know what to expect from the Pembroke Lumber Kings.
It was the dawn of a new era under the leadership of Alex Armstrong who purchased the team from Dale McTavish in June, then stepped in as head coach and general manager. And he didn’t waste any time sending a message that he intended to shake things up, starting with the blockbuster nine-player trade with his former team, the Smiths Falls Bears, less than a month after taking over the reins of the storied Central Canada Hockey League franchise. Throughout the first half, he has continued to send that message to the players that they need to perform in order to stay in Pembroke, making it clear that all jobs were there for the taking if players didn’t meet expectations.
Now with 35 games in the books, the Kings are sitting in the middle of the pack in the CCHL, within reach of the top-four which has been Armstrong’s goal since the beginning of the season.
When the Kings opened with seven wins in the first eight regular season games on the road people began to take notice. This was an impressive start for a young team with only two returning players – forward Brady Egan and defenceman William Neault.
Things were up and down through October and November with the Kings often managing to beat the top teams while struggling against those lower in the standings. At times goals have been hard to come by as Pembroke has allowed three more goals than they’ve scored (114 GF and 117 GA by mid-December).
Those numbers could be different, at least on the goals-against front if not for the stellar play of 17-year-old goaltender Reece Proulx who has held the Kings in the game more than once, often giving his team a chance to win, even when the players in front of him hadn’t performed well enough to deserve that opportunity.
The Kings are a little grittier than past teams with players not afraid to get dirty in the corners and rough up opponents if necessary, as was demonstrated against the Carleton Place Canadians at home recently. And Armstrong isn’t afraid to show emotion on the bench, whether his frustration is directed at officials or players whose mistakes cost the team.
With the CCHL trade deadline in early January, you can bet Armstrong will be in search of a player who can score some goals. If the Kings can stay healthy, the team should be able to move up in the standings and have success in the post-season.
Tina’s Report Card First Half Grade: B
Richard Chaput: Colour Commentary-MY FM and Fast Hockey
For me the big thing is team unity which wasn’t there a few months ago. Sure they started @ 6-1 but then their youth and immaturity did an about face. But now, still a young team, they are showing signs of team and hockey maturity on the ice and in the dressing room. They are playing as a team and for one another.
Recent addition, goaltender Nick Beck teases the possibility of 1 and 1a in between the pipes with his strong debut, albeit a 4-3 OT loss to Carleton Place, the top team in the league. Additions to the already decent blue line (Nicholas Guillemette and Blair Battochio) with the return of Shawn Fortier and Ethan Emmanuel in the New Year, as well as Ty Hollett who is big and strong, solidifies the back end. William Neault, paired with Guillemette, has a high hockey IQ and is playing with a ton of confidence.
Finally I like the trade, Jesse Dick for Dante Morretti, as Dick is the spark plug needed on the wing and very skilled as well.
Richard’s Report Card First Half Grade: B+
Josh Coleman: Play by Play-Fast Hockey
Following a blistering start to the 2019-2020 campaign which saw the Lumber Kings jump out to a 6-0 start, the team has fought hard to remain in the top three of the Robinson Division and is currently sitting T-5 in the overall league standings. The Lumber Kings dominated the month of September, boasting a 7-2 record, however, they failed to have winning records in the following months, featuring a 5-7 record in October, and a 3-5 record in November. December is off to a good start as the team has won three of their four games to begin the festive season.
Back to back match-ups against the rival Carleton Place Canadians recenlty, provided the perfect opportunity to see where the team is at, midway through the season. With Fletcher Anderson leading the way in goals (22 – also a league high) and points (40 – good for 7th in the league), the Lumber Kings are in a great spot approaching the Christmas break. Goaltender Reece Proulx is an absolute monster in the pipes, giving the Lumber Kings a great chance for two points any time he is in the crease, which is often for head coach Alex Armstrong, who has proven he isn’t shy about leaning on his starting netminder. The Lumber Kings recently signed free agent goaltender Nick Beck, formerly of the Cleveland Barons U-18 program, who hopes to allow for more rest for Proulx down the stretch.
If the Lumber Kings are going to move up the standings, they will require more depth scoring, as there are only three players on the roster with 10 or more goals (Anderson, Cameron Hough, and Brady Egan). On the back end the defense has vastly improved as of late, with the likes of Nicolas Guillemette leading the way offensively, and defensive stalwarts such as Blair Battochio and William Neault providing stability in their own zone.
Throughout most of the season thus far, the Lumber Kings carried a negative goal differential, but have since seen that stat improve back to even on the year, off the strength of some high scoring affairs. Last note of importance for the Lumber Kings, is their home ice advantage. The Memorial Centre is a tough barn to play in, but the Lumber Kings have yet to prove that to the CCHL, with only a 7-7-1 record at home, good for 15 points on the season.
The community loves their Lumber Kings, averaging 530 fans per game at the Memorial Centre this season, which tops the league. It is important for both the team AND the community to come together and create an atmosphere that is difficult for the opposition, so come out and support your 2019-2020 Pembroke Lumber Kings as they chase down their first Art Bogart Trophy since 2011!
Josh’s Report Card First Half Grade: A+ Start of Season/C+ Since Then
Geoff Patterson: Play by Play-MY FM Radio:
Credit Alex Armstrong for assembling a talent-laden club starting with the backbone in goal as Reece Proulx has been outstanding game in and game out, and so far has provided some of the best clutch goaltending since Paul Beckwith gave the Kings their first championship in 18 years when he backstopped the Kings to a CCHL title in 2007. The back end has been a work in progress but veterans William Neault, Blair Bottachio and Nicholas Guilllemette have been a good stabilizing influence when combined with some of the younger blueliners and would have to be rated average to above average.
Armstrong and the staff have taken note of establishing a positive culture and the leadership group of the previously mentioned defenders, along with Captain Jacob Shankar, Brady Egan, Fletcher Anderson and Cameron Hough have played “off the charts” at times this season. Youngsters Jack Stockfish and Jesse Kirkby have made key contributions at various times and must strive for consistency as they continue to figure out what playing the junior game at this level is all about.
Despite plenty of early season injuries, suspensions and a bit of adversity thrown at them at times so far this season, everyone seems to find their role and bring something positive to the mix and I believe the team can do some damage at playoff time. They must continue the work ethic that they’ve delivered to Kings’ fans this season and guys like Andrew Poulias and the recently acquired Jesse Dick must consistently provide some supplemental scoring to help keep the big red machine in high gear. Overall, a great job has been done by these young guys and I look forward to seeing them continue to get better and learning how to keep the foot on the accelerator for the entire 60 minutes.
Geoff’s Report Card First Half Grade: B+