2017-18 Pollock Division Season Preview: Hanover Barons

Despite an inconsistent overall team performance, the Hanover Barons were just two points out of the top 3 last year, sitting 5th at the end of the regular season.

General Manager Chum McAskill says the commitment level wasn't where management thought it would be at times, and the team is bringing in some new talent to try and replace some major pieces that have been at the heart of this roster for a number of years. The Barons will look a lot different than they did a year ago, potentially more so than any other team in the Pollock Division. Again, despite what became a frustrating year, the team did finish with 34 points, one behind Kincardine's 35 and just two back of Mount Forest's 36 for the 3rd spot. The team was one hot streak away from attempting to catch 2nd place Mitchell, but couldn't string together long stretches of consistently good play. The team will have a real challenge on their hands to improve on last year's finish with the losses they face, but McAskill thinks they can finish again in the middle of the pack.

Up front, it's hard to find a team hit as hard by overage departures as the Barons. 4 of their 5 top scorers have aged out, as leading man Justin Graham, 44 points, Brodie LeMay, 33 points, Jarrett Kuntz, 28 points, and Cole Leslie, 24 points, all leave the team. Staying on board though is the team's second leading scorer in the feisty Matt Shields. Shields put up 40 points in 35 games, alongside a whopping 116 penalty minutes. This guy has an edge, and while he sometimes crosses the line and takes bad penalties, his physicality is a welcome trait. He will be heavily leaned on to have a similar year this year. It's notable that Shields did a lot of his offensive damage as the finisher, scoring 26 goals, by far the most on the team. Young Noah Johnson, who had an impressive 17 points  in 35 games, will also return, and he will be counted on to take the next step forward and become a better consistent offensive threat. Also returning is Brett Zabel, who as a 16-year-old had a great season, posting 21 points in 36 games. McAskil thinks he can become a leader on the team. If Matt Shields can keep producing 40-plus points, and the young guys who now make up the core can take their games to another level, the Barons won't have scoring woes.

On the blueline, the Barons will benefit from familiar faces, as a majority of the back end will return, led by Colten Culbert. After returning to Hanover from Elmira last year, Culbert had an up-and-down season, but still managed 13 points in just 29 games. McAskill says in Elmira, Culbert wasn't encouraged as much to lug the puck, but the Barons want him to drive forward, so the adjustment to a new style held him back a little. This year, there are bigger expectations for Culbert, who will lead the line for Hanover. Joining him again, at least for right now, is Derek Williams and Jared Liesemer, who had 12 and 11 points respectively. They make up a solid top 3 for the Barons, and McAskill expects that with a year under their belts together, they can significantly improve this season. Adding depth is the returning Curtis Jackson of Listowel who provided stout defense and 4 points, acting as a more stay-at-home defender. At the time of writing, McAskill says they expect their core from last year to all return, meaning Carson Ivel likely factors back in as well after a 9 point campaign, but the GM says they are leaving spots open for competition during preseason.

In net, there will be more change, as long time starter Cody Van Der Hiede, a local kid, requested a trade during the year, which has yet to materialize. The Barons will miss his compete level and stable play in the crease, as he carried the load again last year taking 23 starts, winning 11. The team is also unsure at this point if backup Braeden Ellis will be back. The Barons have committed to 20-year-old Chase Krompocker, a seasoned veteran who was in a 1A-1B scenario last year in Alliston. Playing on a strong Hornets club under former NHLer Darrin Shannon, Krompocker went 16-3-0 in 22 appearances, posting a .905 save percentage and a stingy 2.49 GAA. If he can replicate anything close to those numbers for Hanover this year, they'll have a stud in net. We all saw what a veteran goalie from outside the division could do for reigning champs Mount Forest last year. Obviously it's too early to expect Krompocker to do what Matt Oullette did, but his numbers warrant a safe bet to be a great goalie this year, which will help the Barons cause.

For more on the upcoming Hanover Barons season, here's a full-length interview with GM Chum McAskill:

[audio mp3="http://blackburnnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/CHUM-MCASKILL.mp3"][/audio]

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