Wildcats add key pieces

Veterans Riley Spears and Phillippe Casault join Valley in separate trades

JASON MALLOY ANNAPOLIS VALLEY REGISTER jason.malloy @saltwire.com @JasonMa47772994



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The Valley Wildcats have bolstered their roster for the second half of the season. The team made a pair of transactions ahead of the Jan. 10 Maritime Junior Hockey League trade deadline. The Wildcats acquired forward Riley Spears and defenceman Phillippe Casault in separate deals with the South Shore Lumberjacks and the Fredericton Red Wings, respectively. They also received Cam Henderson back from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s AcadieBathurst Titan and Blake Deacon returned to the team late in the first half. “Now the real work begins,” Wildcats head coach and general manager Brendon Benedict said Jan. 10 after the wheeling and dealing was done. “We have to realize we have an opportunity here, but it’s not going to be easy.” Valley (12-11-2-1) sits third in the six-team Eastlink South Division. They are 10 points back of Amherst (17-7-1-2), 12 behind Yarmouth (18-73-0) and three up on fourthplace Truro (11-11-2-0). “We want to stay in the mix. I think we did that with these two moves, but in the same breath, we understand our competition did the same thing,” Benedict said. “It’s going to be a dogfight going down the stretch here.” And while the additions make the team stronger on paper, the game is played on the ice. “As long as we come together as a team, and we work together as a team, I think we can put together some wins.” SPEARS Spears, 20, is a six-foot-one, 170-pound, right-shot forward who can play centre or right-wing. Benedict said he is a physical power forward, who plays with grit and energy. “He’s a top-end forward. He plays the game hard,” he said. “He shoots the puck extremely well.” He said the Middle Sackville native can beat defenders wide with his speed and also brings leadership qualities to the team. “I know his attitude away from the rink is top-notch. We’re getting a first-class kid first and foremost,” he said. “We’re certainly excited to get Riley here.” CASAULT Casault, 20, is a six-foot, 185pound well-rounded blueliner. “He does everything extremely well. He moves the pucks, he jumps up into the plays, he’s hard to play against, he’s physical, he’s got good size,” Benedict said. “He can play in all situations. He was the captain in Fredericton, so obviously, he’s a leader, so I think we’re getting top defenceman in this league. We’re certainly excited to have him on board as well.” The Halifax native played three seasons of under-18 hockey with the Cole Harbour Wolfpack before joining the Rimouski Oceanic for two major junior seasons. The 2021-22 campaign was his first year in the Maritime junior circuit. Benedict said they had interest in Casault before and are glad to have been able to add him to the squad. The bench boss said adding Spears and Casault to complete their stable of 20-yearold players was important as it heads into the stretch drive. “There’s going to be a lot of tough games,” he said, referencing some hard buildings to play in within the division. “They’re not easy environments and we expect our older guys to lead us.” MORE ADDITIONS Deacon, who turns 20 in April, played parts of the past two seasons with the Wildcats but decided not to play with them in the first half. The Port Williams native had three goals and eight assists in 29 games in 2020-21. “He’s a very good offensive player,” Benedict said. “We’re expecting Deacs to have a big second half for us. I know he’ll be an offensive guy that we’ll rely on.” Henderson made the Titan as a 16-year-old rookie in training camp. As they added veteran pieces to make a push for a league title, Henderson got caught in the numbers game. Benedict is excited to have Henderson join them and sees it as a great way for a young player to develop. “He’s going to get his minutes here. He’s going to be playing in a good league against a lot of good players,” he said. “He’s going to be a player that teams are going to hate to play against. “I know from watching him on video and all the reports I got on him. He’s not a timid 16-year-old.” SCHEDULE The league announced on Jan. 6 it decided to reduce the schedule by 10 games to 42 due to COVID-19 restrictions and was targeting Feb. 2 as its date to restart the schedule. The change will mean each team loses one home and one away game against each team in their division. The league had to make the decision in order to get the playoffs in before the Fred Page Cup Eastern Canadian junior A hockey championship in Summerside, May 10 to 15, and the national championship in Estevan, Sask. At the moment, the Wildcats can skate in small groups but can’t have full practices.