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The Kensington Monaghan Farms Wild is entering unfamiliar territory.
The New Brunswick/P.E.I. Major Under-18 Hockey League team is rebuilding.
This year’s edition of the Wild features only four returning players – goaltender Josh Smith, defencemen Crosby Andrews and Kieran Rennie and forward Alex Graham.
That's a low number for an organization that has been a perennial contender. Over the last five seasons, the Wild has posted a 116-49-25 (won-lost-overtime losses) regular-season record while going 17-5 in the provincial playoffs.
“We’d normally have seven to eight to 10 guys returning,” said Wild head coach Kyle Dunn. “It’s a new look, and the staff is excited to see how we progress.
"With the new team, there is going to be a lot of teaching and learning, and we are excited about that challenge.”
Dunn understands there will be bumps along the way with a young and inexperienced squad. He said the most important thing is sticking to the plan.
“Do we think we are going to win every game?” said Dunn. “No, we are going to take our lumps and have some learning curves, but we have a process, and we are going to stick to that.”
The Wild will open the 2020-21 regular season on home ice at Credit Union Centre on Saturday night against the Charlottetown Bulk Carriers Knights at 7:30 p.m. The Knights defeated the Wild in two pre-season games.
“The guys are fired up to be back,” said the 17-year-old Smith, who is from Warren Grove. “With COVID, there was no guarantee we would have this season. We are grateful to be here and grateful to be able to play hockey.”
Smith is the only team member in his third year with the Wild. Although he chuckled that he will not be receiving a letter (for captain or assistant captain) as a goaltender, he is looking to take on a leadership role.
“You can still be a leader in the room and lead by example for these young guys,” said Smith. “Our young guys are good and are working hard every single day. They will be a big part of this team as we go forward.”
Rookie Keifer Thompson of Summerside will form the other half of the goaltending tandem. Dunn feels Kensington is solid between the pipes and that Smith and Thompson will give the Wild a chance to compete every night.
The Wild will start the year with only five defencemen, including rookies Beau Dawson, Jack Rowell and Connor Pierce.
“We are expecting Crosby and Kieran to lead the way with those guys and help out,” said Dunn. “With five D those guys are going to get their feet wet pretty quick.”
Rennie, who is from Summerside, said the biggest adjustments he found coming into the league last season were confidence and speed.
“You have to be confident to play well, and you are going to have to move the puck quicker because you are not going to have as much time and get your feet moving,” said Rennie, 16.
Andrews also welcomes taking on a leadership role. He said he likes what he's seen from the Wild.
“Every year you want to be a leader, but this year, more than ever, it’s important to be a leader,” said the 16-year-old Andrews, who is from Hunter River. “I want to lead by example and show the newer guys what it’s like to play in the league.”
Graham and former Knight Avery Brown are the only forwards with experience in this league. Dunn said the recent addition of Graham and Harrison James from the Summerside Western Capitals’ junior A team provided two big shots in the arm for the Wild.
“It’s going to be a lot of learning for the young guys,” said Dunn. “We have some good young talent with Max Sentner, Sam Bowness, Clark Allain and Patrick Shea. We are excited to see those young guys get their feet wet in this league. There are going to be some growing pains for this team, but we are excited to be a part of it.”
Kensington Wild season-opening roster:
1. Keifer Thompson
33. Josh Smith
2. Beau Dawson
4. Connor Pierce
5. Crosby Andrews
6. Kieran Rennie
7. Jack Rowell
8. Harrison James
10. Carson MacKay
11. Alex Graham
14. Jesse Johnston
15. Patrick Shea
16. Avery Brown
17. Bates Ling
18. Brennan Murphy
19. Clark Allain
21. Sam Bowness
22. Jamie Collins
25. Max Sentner
General Manager: Mike Gallant
Head Coach: Kyle Dunn
Assistant Coaches: Duane Richards, Ryan Power, Alex Surrett
Goaltending Coach: Nelson MacAulay
Fitness/Strength Coach: Brian Arsenault
Chiropractor: Dr. Chris McCarthy
Equipment Manager: David (Gonzo) Bernard
Jason Simmonds is a sports reporter with The Guardian.