When the Greater Metro Junior Hockey League’s (GMHL) Toronto Predators announced their move to Niagara-on-the-Lake back in May, general manager Johan Eriksson expressed a commitment that the team would become part of the community.
To that end, they have begun taking suggestions for a new team name in an effort to reflect the local fabric.
“This is almost a completely new organization,” Eriksson explains. “We have no returning players, we have the new location, so for us it makes sense to change the team name and colours.”
For this fresh new start, Eriksson and his board are opening it up as a competition, hoping to take as many submissions as possible up to Aug. 8. After collecting the suggestions, he will meet with owner Robert Turnbull and head coach Andrew Whalen to make the final choice.
The winner will get a season pass to the new team’s home games at the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil and will also receive the very first jersey with the new name and logo.
Eriksson is quick to explain that entrants in the competition do not need to design a new logo. That will be left to the organization’s graphic design team, who will also consult with the board on the optimal colours to go with the name.
It all has to be chosen, designed and printed before October, which is when the GMHL plans to kick off its season.
“We know we’re playing, we’ve got the go-ahead for Oct. 1,” Eriksson tells The Local. “And it’s not confirmed yet, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to follow the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) when it comes to COVID protocols, which would mean all our players, staff and even our billets will need to be double-vaccinated.”
In early September, Eriksson says the team will hold a prospect camp for local players born between 2000 and 2006. The team is willing to consider overage players (born in 2000 or 2001) as well as midget-age players (born in 2006) to build a development relationship with them for the future. He says he is anticipating being impressed by some young NOTL talent.
Eriksson, who also works as a European liaison, player advisor, amateur representative and consultant for Pursuit Hockey Development, is hoping that as many as 20 or more hopeful Junior A players, with experience at the AA and AAA levels, will attend that camp.
“We have dates chosen that we want (for the prospect camp),” he says, “but we’re waiting for confirmation from the arena. It may change by a day or two, but we just need to make sure the ice is good enough to go on, as it gets put in fairly late.”
Once the roster is finalized, the team’s main camp will be held closer to the middle of September.
The Predators have so far signed two players from the Niagara region. One is 21-year-old Dante Massi of Niagara Falls, who split the 2019-2020 season between the Niagara Riverhawks of the Provincial Junior Hockey League, and the Welland Jr. Canadians of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL).
As well, their 2021 first round draft choice, Noah Caperchione, hails from Port Colborne. In 2019-2020, Caperchione notched 25 points in 39 games with the GOJHL’s Caledonia Corvairs.
Other players who are under contract with the Predators include Sweden’s Jesper Eriksson, Georgy Kholmovsky from St. Petersburg, Russia, and Swedish forward Alexander Insulander.
To accommodate those international and out-of-region Predators, Eriksson is looking for billet families in town. He is hoping to find spots for about 15 players.
“Borders are opening.” he says. “We know our Swedish players are ready to come, and are fully vaccinated. They may be able to come as early as late August. It’s getting close for us, and we need to line up those host families.”
Billet families are expected to provide the players with housing, utilities, food and Wi-Fi. The compensation for the billet host is $550 per month as well as family passes for regular season and the playoffs.
Whatever the team ends up being called, they will be playing a 42-game regular season, with half of the games taking place in Virgil. The other 21 games are to be played on the road, mostly visiting their Southern Division opponents in towns such as Kingsville, Tottenham, Colborne, Oshawa and Durham.
For information and to discuss billeting a player, Eriksson invites interested families to contact him by phone at 365-323-5789 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NOTL Local has agreed to assist the team with the search for a new name. The competition is open to all residents of the region. All entrants must agree to appear on the team website and social media if their entry is chosen as the winner.
If multiple people send in the same name suggestion and that name is chosen by the board, the entrant who sent the first email with that team name will receive the prize.
Please send an email with your name, team name, suggested team colours, and your phone number to email@example.com. Submissions will be accepted up to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 8.