Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Saints more like nomads

But MJHL team has taken shine to Civic Centre, their 3rd home in 3 years

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It's their third home in three years but the Winnipeg Saints are still treated as the visitors in the St. James Civic Centre.

As the 2011-12 Manitoba Junior Hockey League season opened Friday night, the Saints became co-tenants at the Civic Centre with the St. James Canucks of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League. The Canucks occupy the large team room in the rink's southwest corner that was once the home of the former MJHL member St. James Canadians.

The Saints played at Dakota Community Centre for two seasons and St. Adolphe arena last season.

"It's making us earn our way. We pack up our bags and drag them around like we've all done before (in minor hockey), it keeps us tough and humble," joked fourth-year Saints forward Brett Chartier, an MJHL all-star who finished third in league scoring last season.

"It's tough bouncing around, but we've had a lot of time here in practice and it feels like home already."

Defenceman Jeff Mitchell said the Civic Centre holds some good memories for the Saints organization. The arena was the playoff home for the Saints against the Portage Terriers in 2008 and Dauphin Kings in 2010.

"I like this rink a lot and I hope our fans will too, so we can get more fans out to watch now that we're back in the city," said the 20-year-old Mitchell, who's in his third season with the Saints.

"I've played here in the playoffs before. I can remember the barn was packed. Standing out there on the blue-line and your heart's just going. It was an amazing feeling, so that's what we're working towards this season."

Saints second-year head coach David Anning, the MJL's youngest coach at age 26, said his team has made the Civic Centre feel like home by building some early-season chemistry.

"This year we took a different approach than in previous years, we got down to our core group a lot quicker (made earlier cuts) and it's really helped bring the guys together a lot faster," Anning said.

"Our veterans came back energized and taking on a leadership role and our young guys are very skilled. To win the league is not an easy task. We like our group and we think we'll be close."

Chartier is one of nine 20-year-olds on the Saints this season. Teams can carry more, but nine is the maximum for games.

"I've never been part of a team with that many 20-year-olds and I think it's going to be good. Having that experience on the team, I think it will help the young guys down the road," Chartier said. "We have a good group of returning veterans that are going to be key to our team and we've got some great young skill that is going to jump in there right away."

Two new players expected to have immediate impacts joined the team from the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League -- 17-year-olds Corey Petrash from the Winnipeg Thrashers and Patrick D'Amico from the Winnipeg Wild. A veteran newcomer is centre Craig Scott, 20, who was acquired in a trade with the Selkirk Steelers while defenceman Dylan Pascoe, 19, and forward Shane Gingera, 18, are expected to be key players in their second Saints seasons. The Portage Terriers will be a new divisional rival for the Saints as the will be the defending MJHL/ANAVET Cup champion Terriers, who moved to the Addison Division from the Sher-Wood, a move which Terriers coach Blake Spiller said could save the team as much as $13,000 in travel costs.

The only coaching change was with the Winkler Flyers. They brought back Ken Pearson, who spent the past three seasons as coach and GM of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Battlefords North Stars. Pearson led the Flyers to the 1998 league title.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 2011 C9

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