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Reflections on the Stratford Warriors 2022-23 Season
The Warriors had a special group and connection to the community

Written by: Darren Stevenson, May 11, 2023.  SOURCE:

It was just under 6 years ago, the Fall of 2017. It was the beginning stages of 519 Sports. I was asked to help provide content and some coverage for the Waterloo Wolves U16 team.

One of the first interviews I ever did with 519 Sports was the captain announcement. The player wearing the C was Zac McCann, a well spoken young man hungry to lead the Wolves to an Alliance championship.

On Tuesday night, McCann graduated out of junior hockey with the Stratford Warriors. How quickly time flies.

From that first interview back in 2017 you knew Zac had a bright future ahead of him. He would later captain the U18 Huron Perth Lakers and what a career he enjoyed in junior, hoisting the Cherrey Cup as the Warriors captain in his final season.

Now he’s off to play for the Western Mustangs and you know he’ll be a key contributor in London, just like Zac has been everywhere else.

It’s weird for me to think that 519 has been around this long. To go through a full cycle of players from U16 through junior. It started out as just an idea in September of 2017 and here we are.

McCann isn’t the only 2002 born player from that Waterloo team on the Warriors roster. Reid Oliver and Owen Robertson also played on that U16 Waterloo team. It’s honestly been a pleasure watching these 3 players develop over the years and getting to know their families. Owen’s Dad is a solid ball player in the 40+ league 😉

Great players, even better people.

And that’s what being a Warrior is all about. Great players, better people.

Saying that, Camden Daigle and Sheldon Pryce come to mind immediately. Daigs is one of the best interviews in the league. He’s honest, passionate and wears his heart on his sleeve. This week, he battled through injury to play Game 7 against Leamington. You just knew he’d be out there working his ass off for his team.

Yes things didn’t go as planned for the Warriors in Game 7 but one game doesn’t define a season. Think back. How many massive goals did Sheldon Pryce score this year? Too many to count.

He’s got a natural ability around the net and there’s nothing better than Sheldon scoring and skating over to the near glass and pointing to the passionate Warrior fans in that front row. Same crew in those seats every time, a group so appreciated by the players.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a game at the Allman, you know the fans like it when things get a little bit heated and spicy. Which is why Luke Fritz and Keaton McLaughlin often got the loudest roars.

Keaton was his usual self in Game 7 knocking people around, getting the crowd going, giving his team energy.

For those of you who don’t know, he played exactly the same way in WCSSAA high school hockey with his hometown Elmira Lancers. He’s a player you want on your team but hate to play against him.

The same goes for Fritz. He’s a spark plug every time he’s on the ice. The crowd loves this kid and he’s well respected amongst his teammates. He works hard, agitates the other team and skates away smiling. It’s fun to watch. (Go watch the pregame warmup from Game 3).

To be honest, I’m beyond thankful the Warriors put their faith and trust in the 519 platform to share their stories. Whether it’s Hunter Nagge leading the Midwest in scoring at one point this season, Owen Willmore arriving at the trade deadline or Reid Oliver scoring a huge game winner in Elmira.

On Tuesday night, the season all culminated with 2200+ fans at the Allman. The rabid fan base inside this historic arena, all hoping to see the Warriors first Sutherland Cup title since 2004.

Regardless of the outcome it was a special night. Cullitons alumni dropping the puck. Former players including Cole Melady in the building. I also recently saw former captain Tyson Baker at the rink, supporting his old team. And of course, it wouldn’t be the same without Bruce in his seat two rows down from our shooting spot.

Bruce is a staple at the Allman. He sits in the same seat every game. We always have a pregame chat and share a laugh before the game starts. He tells me what his grandson is up too and I enjoy hearing the stories. He’s as passionate as they come and always has a word or three for the referees during the game. It’s just another unique piece of the Allman experience.

The goal horn is loud, Vince has the perfect voice for the public address announcing and the players know what it means to be a Warrior.

Patrick Cole recently said to me, “I love playing here, its honestly incredible”. He said that while signing autographs for young fans fighting for space above the bench area to see their favourite players.

Speaking of fan favourites, how about some of the hometown kids, Jonas Schmidt, Cole Lewis and Hayden Frayne. Schmidt had a career year with 23 goals. (Side note – also has the best hair on the team).

Lewis was excellent in his first full season in the GOJHL and Frayne, despite battling some injuries was solid on the backend. He’s a shot blocking machine.

Another local player who stepped into the spotlight was Carson Harmer. And what a story. OHL drafted player after playing U16 for Huron Perth, scoring a massive goal in Game 5 in the 3rd period. Carson came out for his interview after. All I can say is, what a polite, well spoken young man. He did a phenomenal job answering the questions and should be extremely proud of how he handled himself as a rookie. Bright future is an understatement.

Warriors General Manager Nick Parr did a nice job mixing in some young local talent, with veteran players from around the area and it all clicked at the right time of the year.

Parr and Jason Clarke, who is the Director of Hockey Operations (love the WWE GIF’s on his Twitter) make the Warriors hockey decisions. Nick said to me at the start of the year “this town is hungry for a GOJHL championship”.

Nick and Clarkey built a team the town was so proud of and loved supporting. On Monday night, 1800 presale tickets were purchased in just over an hour for Tuesday’s Game 7.

This community loved the Warriors and the team loved them right back.

For the graduating players, I know it will take a few days to absorb what happened. It’s tough, I get it.

However when you look back years from now you’ll have some of the best memories of your life from this season. The bond this group shared was special.

All the best to 5, 9, 12, 19, 21, 25 and 27. I appreciate all the times you stood in front of our 519 camera, with the bright light, answering our questions. Every one of you is a class act.

On Tuesday night leaving the rink I saw the parents of one of 2002 graduating players. We chatted for a few minutes. It almost seemed fitting it was one of those U16 Wolves families from way back. We shared a few laughs, shook hands and they said thanks for everything. They are the nicest, most genuine people. I hope you’ll remember S and D, don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

To the coaches, Willy, Schlitt, McLeod, Grossy, Nelly and Grammer… thanks for always being accommodating and supportive of what we do. Great job Schlitt with your first 519 interview after Game 6. I heard your brother enjoyed it.

To the training staff and equipment managers, your hard work and long hours don’t go unnoticed. And in Ryan Duck’s case, your interview skills. Ducky was the one helping us gather some content when games were being played in Leamington. Cheers to Ryan, Josh, Quinn, Cody, Bevan and Bo.

This year between regular season and playoffs we covered 32 home games at the Allman. It was all powered by Turner Plumbing and their sponsorship. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough to say how much I appreciate Turner Plumbing and their support.

In closing, it was another incredible season covering the Warriors. I won’t ever forget the Cherrey Cup win, Dave Williams getting drenched with water on the ice afterwards or David Baker jumping into our interview.

This is what makes it fun. On any given night at the Allman, you never know what’s gonna happen.

See you all in September, Go White Go!