CJHL heroes are Kings of Pembroke

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 2:23 PM ET

Hockey fever, like in other places across the Ottawa Valley, has found its way to Pembroke.

But this excitement has little to do with the Senators.

The city is decorated with the team colours of red and white to honour their Lumber Kings, who have ascended in a big way to the top of the Central Junior Hockey League -- and the cross-Canada rankings.

That's a first, it's believed, for the CJHL, which has never had a team ranked atop the national ratings.

This is all good for Pembroke, known officially as Hockey Town Canada.

LAST LOSS IN NOVEMBER

Their boys are tearing up the league, haven't lost since early November and appear ready for a run for a national title.

"There's such a great buzz around town," says captain and Renfrew native Jason Walters. "The guys were working the canteen during the Silver Stick Tournament, and we could hear people getting excited that we were Lumber Kings.

"It's nice to hear and it makes you feel really proud."

The Pembroke Memorial Centre will be loaded with fans today when the Kings try to extend their unbeaten streak to 14 games against the Smiths Falls Bears.

A victory would give Pembroke 29 wins in 34 games heading into the Christmas break, a record that is bringing comparisons with the NHL Senators and last year's London Knights' Memorial Cup championship team.

"We've clearly set high goals for this team, and to be sitting here approaching 30 wins before Christmas is something we're certainly pleased about," said coach Kevin Abrams.

Seven players have been named to the CJHL's mid-season all-star team.

The most obvious choice? Right winger Ryan Lasch, the league's leading scorer and Southern California dude, son of a speed skater, who picked hockey over surfing as his hobby of choice.

"My dad took me to the rink one day and we just got hooked on hockey," says Lasch.

In his third season with the Lumber Kings, he leads the CJHL in scoring by a longshot -- with 39 goals and 81 points and half a season remaining.

"When I came up here, I knew we were trying to build for this year and that we felt we could do something special," says Lasch. "So far, it's been really good, but I didn't think I was going to have the year I'm having."

Already he has surpassed his pre-season targets of 35 goals and 80 points.

HOST OF PAGE CUP

But the main focus is on winning the Bogart Cup league title, then the Fred Page regional, which the Lumber Kings will host in April.

If they win the Page Cup, the Kings will advance to the RBC Royal Bank Cup national championship next May in Mississauga, perhaps still ranked No. 1 in the country.

"The ranking is flattering, but we all know that it's subjective," says Abrams, whose job is to make sure his players don't become too comfortable with the rating. "We all know that last year, Hawkesbury wasn't even in the top 10, but they won our league."

The players are thinking the same way.

"That ranking is something that this team is quite proud of and it's a great honour," says Walters. "But it's one thing to be ranked No. 1 during the year, and a whole different thing to be ranked up there at the end of the year."

So far, the Pembroke players have stayed on track, with the occasional glitch. Last Sunday, they blew a 4-1 lead heading into the third period in a tie on home ice against Brockville.

"Everybody was so disappointed," says Lasch. "We basically gave up and we shouldn't have, and everybody knows that. It's not like our team at all and we know we can play better than that."

If the Kings stick to their plan, Pembroke will go nuts if their team ends up winning the national title, a goal everybody in the organization believes is within their grasp.

IN THE CREASE: Gatineau Olympiques coach Benoit Groulx, reports Le Droit, is rumoured to be a candidate for the coaching job at Wilkes-Barre of the American Hockey League. That job became vacant when Michel Therrien was promoted to coach the NHL parent Penguins after Ed Olcyzk was fired this week ... Another rumbling out of Gatineau is a trade before the Christmas-break embargo that could include over-age goalie and Ottawa native David Tremblay ... Oshawa rookie John Tavares not only notched his 20th goal of the season Friday, but also recorded his first OHL hat trick during a loss to Plymouth ... Former 67's G Anthony Guadagnolo stopped 29 shots Thursday in a 4-0 win over Sudbury, his second shutout in December ... Nepean Raiders goalie Ian Dams has agreed to play at Holy Cross University in the NCAA next season ... And finally, don't be surprised if 67's GM-coach Brian Kilrea swings a deal soon with the Soo Greyhounds.

barre.campbell@ott.sunpub.com


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