Junior Mariners hope lineup changes tilt the table in their favour against Express

Chris Quigley
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PORT AUX BASQUES  By the time the Port aux Basques Junior Mariners hit the ice this weekend, it will have been over a month since they’ve last done so as a team.

To say it might take a while to get the legs going would be an understatement.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, against the Central/West Junior Hockey League-leading Bishop’s Falls Express, a lethargic start could be lethal.

“I’d say it’s going to take us a bit to get our game legs back,” admitted Mariners’ Nick Tucker. “It’s very important for us to try to get off to a quick start and come out hitting.”

Their last games came on Dec. 15 and 16, at home against the Express, the first of which saw the Mariners hand the Bishop’s Falls club their first loss of the season, before the Express earned the split the next day. When the league returned from the holiday hiatus last weekend, the Express had a win and a loss against the previously-struggling Stephenville Junior Jets.

“They’re going to come out flying,” Tucker said of the Express. “They’re not going to want to lose anymore.”

Tucker believes the absence of Express captain Mike Vaters played a big role in last weekend’s result and is hoping similar benefits await his own team. Vaters produced an eye-popping 39 points (23G-16A) in 10 games for the Express this year, but may be out indefinitely due to work commitments.

“He’s been an unbelievable player all year,” said Tucker. “We’re hoping with him out of the lineup we can pull off a win or two.”

Not that he thinks the Express are a one-man show —  he acknowledged the contributions of Jared King, who has 16 points (9G-7A) in just seven games, but said the success of the Express goes deeper than individual efforts.

“They’ve just been playing good as a team all year,” he said.

Clean slate

It’s a chance for a fresh start for the Mariners, after enduring a bit of a slump before Christmas.

“We were on a bit of a downslide,” said Tucker. “We lost seven out of eight.”

New addition Steve Hobbs is expected to be in the lineup, while Brett Robinson is also penciled in.

“We should be able to get back on the winning side,” Tucker said, noting how well Hobbs played last season for the now-defunct Humber Valley Junior Red Wings. “He should score a few goals for sure. He did awesome for the Red Wings last year.”

Another new face, goaltender Mike Walsh, may make the greatest impact — if he plays.

“I’m not sure if he’s playing or not,” Tucker said.

Shane Hatcher will draw the start if Walsh is unavailable and Tucker said Hatcher definitely gives the team a chance to win. Walsh, however, stood on his head when the Mariners beat the Express before Christmas and Tucker would like another chance to see what he can do.

“He might have been the key to beating them in that game,” Tucker said. “If we can keep him all year, we should be able to pull off a few more wins against them.”

With a 10-2-0 record, the Express still lead the league by a wide margin, with the Mariners punching in at 5-7-0 for second place. The Junior Jets are 3-9-0.

The Express host the Mariners 7:30 p.m. Saturday night and 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Pat O’Reilly Memorial Stadium.

Organizations: Mariners, West Junior Hockey League, Red Wings Humber Valley Junior

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