The status quo just won’t cut it for the Fort Erie Meteors anymore.
The Meteors have long had a reputation for giving young players a chance to develop, sometimes at the cost of being competitive in the standings.
Now, coach/general manager Nik Passero says that isn’t good enough anymore.
“Our team has always relied on developing players and getting them to the next level and that’s never going to change,” Passero said.
But Passero feels developing players and being competitive aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
“I want to be in the top four and get a playoff series at home,” he said. “I want to win in the playoffs. I want to build a team to where we’re winning in the playoffs and then I want to get guys to the next level. I think I have seven or eight guys that can play at the next level right now and I want 22 at the end of the year.”
Passero feels it’s time the Meteors shook off their old reputation.
“I always tell our staff and our players the biggest crime in business or in sports is when someone says, ‘Well, we’ve always done it that way.’ Well, things change. There’s a lot of things we do now that we never used to like we’re adding a fourth practice. We’re practicing four days a week and when I played it was only three.
“We’re constantly adapting and I think that’s going give us some competitive advantage come January and February. If you don’t evolve, you’re dead in whatever you do.”
Passero has high hopes for this season’s squad starting in goal where newcomers Josh Smith and Duncan Nichols-Delay appear to be a solid duo.
“I’m really happy with Josh and Duncan,” Passero said. “They’ve had a great training camp. I’m excited for them. A sign of a good team is a good goaltender and the sign of a good coach is a good goaltender.
“They have come in and shut the door. I’m not worried about that at all.”
Veterans Tyler Decoff of Niagara Falls and Thomas Gualtieri of St. Catharines will anchor the blueline.
“Both are three-year junior B players,” Passero said. “They’re gonna be the shutdown duo, although they’re not necessarily playing together, but I’ll rely on both of them.”
Newcomer Rylan Masterson, grandson of former Niagara Falls Canucks coach Terry Masterson, has been impressive thus far.
“Rylan Masterson lives up to the name. He’s tough. He’s got a great shot as well and he’s smart,” Passero said.
Noah Clugston, Riley Noble, Luke Gualtieri, a draft pick of the Flint Firebirds, and Bryson Essery round out the defence.
“Our whole D core, although not exactly elder statesmen, I think they’re more than up to the challenge,” Passero said. “Our D are young but we wanted to have pucker movers. I think last year we struggled moving the puck.”
Passero feels he has excellent depth up front.
“I think the goals are gonna come from a lot of places,” he said. “I think we’re deep or deeper than most.”
One newcomer to watch is Steven Katsis, a 20-year-old centre who played a handful of games for the Mets in 2017.
“We’re looking for guys that want to score goals and I think he’s one of them,” Passero said. “It sounds easy to want to score goals but not everyone wants to do it and this kid does.”
As well, 16-year-old Joseph Maccione has stood out. Maccione is a native of Streetsville, who was a draft selection of the Kitchener Rangers.
“He has really impressed us. He’s only been with us for a week-and-a-half year but is highly skilled,” Passero said.
The Meteors open the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season at home Saturday against the St. Catharines Falcons.
Tyler Decoff (A)
Michael Angrilli (A)
Marcus Regina (A)
Josh DiFransesco (A)
Kevin Gould (C)
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