The Newcastle Northstars will look to local product Hayden Sheard to step straight in as a power forward after a season off when they start their Goodall Cup defence this weekend on the road.
The two-time Australian Ice Hockey League defending premiers play Adelaide on Saturday and Perth on Sunday, and coach Andrew Petrie has called up Sheard to replace Mat Lindsay, who is out with university commitments.
Petrie said preparations have been “as good as you could hope for” but the weekend matches were a difficult road trip to open the season.
The Northstars have lost last year’s league leading scorer, Connor McLaughlin, and fellow imports Scott Swiston and Brandon Greenside but gained Canadians Matt Marantz, Steve Kuhn and Felix-Antoine Poulin and American Joe Harcharik.
Goaltender Dayne Davis has left, but Newcastle have gained Australian representative Charlie Smart (Sydney Ice Dogs).
Petrie said he was confident the Northstars had replaced last year’s imports with players of similar quality.
“It’s often more about the imports’ attitude and approach to how they play hockey than it is about how many points they’ve had,” Petrie said.
“It’s more about character than it is about the CV. Fortunately this year I think we’ve got a really good mix of both. Some guys have done really, really well overseas and also have that right character we look for.
“We were very happy with what we had last year, and the year before, for that matter, and probably just put a little bit more work into bringing a group out who could potentially work all together.
“In our forwards, I want guys who compete. They play just as hard in both directions. Any time you’ve got your scoring guys playing defence with that level of commitment, it lifts the entire roster. It makes coaching your team defensively infinitely easier.”