By Bill Potrecz
The Fort Erie Meteors appear to have a good head start on the 2020/21 Golden Horseshoe season.
New head coach and general manager Nik Passero has eight returning skaters from last season’s squad, which finished 15-30-5, while adding eight newcomers.
Returning are forwards Drew Passero (14-21-35), Anthony Gigliotti (10-18-28), Marco Lariccia (10-40-50), Nathan Reichel (10-8-18), Dylan Abbamont (5-10-15), Michael Angrilli (4-5-9), Jayden Baldinelli (7-14-21) and defenceman Tyler Decoff (6-10-16).
“We are bringing back my three captains — Passero, Gigliotti and Lariccia — that’s big. They are all 20-year-olds and they are going to lead the room for us,” Nik Passero said.
“I think that’s important. The younger guys, the 03s and 04s, they are going to need a helping hand through all of this so to have that veteran presence (is important).”
Dalton McBride, who combined with Jacob Hearne to give Fort Erie a top-notch tandem in goal, is also a possibility to return. McBride, an 18-year-old Grimsby resident, is trying out with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“McBride might be the best goalie in the league,” Nik Passero said.
Nik Passero is excited about his two 16-year-olds, forward Antonio Pugliese, who netted 12 goals and 27 points in 31 games for the Hamilton Huskies and was a draft pick of the Kitchener Rangers, and St. Catharines native Derek Smythe, who was selected in the 11th round by the Ottawa 67’s.
Other newcomers are Bryson Essery and Hunter Zoccoili, who were both associated players with the Meteors last season, Marcus Regina of Woodbridge, Kevin Gould of New Brunswick and Jordan Grella of Caledon.
Passero said he’s been up front and honest with players during the recruiting process and the uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had a team meeting and the main thing (we told them) was that we’re learning as much as you are learning. The COVID situation is new for everyone. It’s going to be a day-by-day and week-by-week situation for everyone
“You can’t promise anything you can’t guarantee. You just have to be honest. That seems to ease people’s minds.”
The Meteors will hit the ice for the first time Tuesday, Sept. 8.
“The staff has done a good job and everything is ready to go,” Nik Passero said. “We’ll play it by ear after that. It’s going to be on a month-to-month basis after that as to what we’re allowed to do.”
Nik Passero said he plans to try and shake things up in practice with three months of ice before a proposed Dec. 2 start date for the league.
Former Thorold Blackhawks Sutherland Cup winner Chris Risi will be brought in to work on skills and development while other members of the coaching staff will also have a chance to run practices.
“It’s just a different voice so it’s just not me screaming for three months because by December they’re going to tell me to buzz off,” Nik Passero said. “We’re going to keep it changed up.
“September, that’s easy. That’s more about meeting the guys and getting some skating in. It’s October and November when we’re going three and four days a week that it might get monotonous and that’s when we have to be smart.”
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