WATERTOWN — Change is inevitable in hockey, particularly in the professional ranks.
And although the Watertown Wolves have undergone notable change in the offseason — as they hired a new head coach in Paul MacLean — this year’s team already is taking shape with some familiar names.
Tyler Gjurich, the league’s reigning scoring champion, returns to the team in a bit of a different role as he’ll serve as an associate coach, as well as continuing to play for the Wolves.
“I think we have a good group of guys here,” Gjurich said. “All us older guys are going to be involved, helping out the younger guys on the team.”
Veteran defenseman Kyle Powell is back for his fourth season with the Wolves and also will be counted on for a leadership role.
“It’s just great being here,” Powell said. “We’ve built a winning culture here in Watertown over the years and we want to keep it going.”
The Wolves will open their fifth season in the FHL when they host the Mentor Ice Breakers on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Watertown Municipal Arena.
MacLean joins the team after spending last season as coach at several different levels in the Federal Hockey League.
“We have some good veterans here and we have some good young kids who are turning some heads,” said the 49-year-old MacLean, a native of Oakville, Ontario.
After starting out last season has head coach in Danville, MacLean was fired after the Dashers won nine of their first 17 games.
He then joined Elmira’s coaching staff, serving as an associate coach under former Wolves coach Brent Clarke.
“When it didn’t work out in Danville, I coached under Brent Clarke,” MacLean said. “He brought me in and it was fun as the team got to the playoffs. It was a great experience.”
The expansion Enforcers ended up forging a rivalry with the Wolves during the regular season and went on to sweep Watertown in two games in the FHL semifinals.
“It was a lot of fun going up against Watertown,” MacLean said. “And now we get to go up against Elmira, we’ll be in the same division again. It will be fun.”
MacLean was sought out by the Wolves in the offseason and hired as head coach in August.
“He’s great, he’s a players coach,” Gjurich said of MacLean. “It’s very positive, we’re going to play for him and each other.”
“Again, this is a good opportunity here,” MacLean said. “We’ve got a good group of guys, we’ve got a good owner here to work with and it’s a great town. That’s really what it comes to.”
Previously, MacLean began his coaching career as an assistant coach with Port Huron of the United Hockey League.
MacLean also has extensive experience in junior hockey, which may help him in scouting potential young players for the Wolves. He worked as an assistant coach, head coach and general manager in the Superior International Hockey League (Junior A League) with teams in Ontario and Minnesota, Greater Ontario Junior B Hockey League and Metro Junior B Hockey League, also in Ontario.
“I played junior hockey in Ontario and coached there was well in Canada,” MacLean said. “So border towns in hockey are fun, I’m really looking forward to it here.”
MacLean hit the ground running in helping to develop this season’s Wolves team, which has included a free-agent camp as well as two weeks of training camp.
“The way I coach, I like a skilled team, but I also like a disciplined team as well,” MacLean said.
MacLean is the fourth head coach in Wolves history and takes over the reins from Trevor Karasiewicz, who coached the team the past two seasons.
“I think we’re really focusing on our defensive zone right now and in the offensive zone you have to be responsible,” MacLean said. “You want to be creative, but at the same time, you want to keep pucks out of the net.”
Gjurich, who led the FHL in goals (51) and points (106) last season. heads up a strong contingent of returning forwards for the Wolves.
“There’s a little bit of a different energy in the locker room and on the ice and during practice, everything,” Gjurich, 27, said. “You can just tell it’s going to be a good group, hard working and stuff like that.”
Gjurich, who is back for a third season with Watertown, has scored 50 goals in each of his previous two seasons in the league, including his rookie season in Danbury in 2015-16.
“This is about as positive as it’s been ever when I’ve played pro hockey,” said Gjurich, who spent most of his summer in Watertown. “This is really exciting, and like the guys who have been here before, we’re really excited to get it started.”
While still being counted on for offense, Gjurich has already taken on more of a leadership role.
“This year, it’s a different feel from last year,” Gjurich said. “We weren’t as a hard-working team last year and obviously we didn’t do as well against Elmira. So I think it’s going to be different this year.”
Forward Lane King was re-signed by the Wolves in the summer, also as a player/associate coach.
Also at forward, the Wolves’ Anton Kalinin is back, returning after his rookie season in Watertown, his first as a pro in North America.
Kalinin spent part of his offseason in New York City and then much of the summer in his native Russia.
“I didn’t play much last (season), but I played more later on,” said Kalinin, who appeared in 47 games with Watertown last season, totaling 12 goals and 20 assists. “But playing with all those guys, it was fun and I learned a lot. ... I hope this season will be a lot better and I’ll keep working at it.”
Watertown also re-signed forwards Deric Boudreau (9-goals-18-assists-27 points) and Cameron Dimmitt (8-13-21), who contributed offensively.
“I think we’re going to be good this year, a lot better than last year,” Kalinin said. “We have more young players and they’re hungry for hockey and stuff.”
The Wolves’ blue line will be anchored by a pair of Powells as the team acquired defenseman Marvin Powell in the offseason.
“We have a couple older guys and then a bunch of young guys,” the 25-year-old Kyle Powell said of the team. “They just bring a lot of speed and you can tell they know the game.”
Kyle Powell, who has served as a team captain in the past for the Wolves, is pleased to be back in Watertown.
“It’s my fourth year in Watertown now and I call it my home away from home,” Kyle Powell said. “The fans are great, its one of the best fan bases I’ve been a part of. And I really think the organization is good, it’s going in the right direction.”
Marvin Powell has spent portions of the past two seasons in the FHL, mostly with Danville and was then traded to Port Huron in the 2018-19 campaign and played with the Prowlers in the playoffs.
He considers himself a versatile and physical player as he can play forward as well, along with his role as a defenseman.
“I love it so far, I absolutely love it,” said the 27-year-old Marvin Powell, who grew up in Mississippi. “This is my third year in the league and this is by far one of the best organizations. From day one when I came in, there was camaraderie in the locker room, there’s a lot of chemistry here.”
Marvin Powell is also already comfortable with the Wolves’ coaching staff.
“I played under Paul in Danville, so it was an easy adjustment for me once I got here,” Marvin Powell said. “I know what to expect, and they’ve run a very similar (training) camp to the one I was at last year. I think Paul will do well here.”
While the Wolves’ defensive corps had yet to be finalized early on in the week, a pair of brothers — Dallas and Michael Desjarlais from Alberta — had made their presence felt in training camp and in the exhibition games.
Heading into the final week of training camp, the Wolves were down to a handful of goalies, including Máté Garbacz of Hungary, who signed with the team in the offseason.
MacLean was able to get Garbacz, former Elmira goalie Blake Scott and rookie Jeremy Pominville into game action during last week’s two exhibition games in Watertown, and even played rookie Joe Young for two periods in Saturday’s game, after he came over from Elmira’s training camp.
“I like who we have,” MacLean said of the goalies. “It’s nice when you have that competition between them. But you have to have three on your radar, maybe even four, if someone gets hurt or gets called up.”
The Wolves and Enforcers will play in the same division this season — the East Division — as the FHL has expanded to 10 teams.
“Right now, we’re pleased with the effort with the guys we have right now,” MacLean said. “We still have to work on the roster, but I like what we have to work with here.”
WOLVES 2019-20 SCHEDULE
Fri. 25 vs. MENTOR, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 26 vs. MENTOR, 7:30 p.m.
Fri. 1 vs. PORT HURON, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 2 vs. PORT HURON, 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 8 at Danville, 8:05 p.m.; Sat. 9 at Danville, 8:05 p.m.; Fri. 15 at Battle Creek, 7:35 p.m.; Sat. 16 at Battle Creek, 7:35 p.m.; Sun. 17 at Battle Creek, 12:35 p.m.; Fri. 22 vs. DANVILLE, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 23 vs. DANVILLE, 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 29 vs. DELAWARE, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 30 vs. DELAWARE, 7:30 p.m.
Fri. 6 at Elmira, 7:05 p.m.; Sat. 7 at Elmira, 7:05 p.m.; Fri. 13 vs. DANBURY, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 14 at Danbury, 7 p.m.; Fri. 20 at Danbury, 7 p.m.; Sat. 21 vs. DANBURY, 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 27 vs. DELAWARE, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 28 at Delaware, 7:05 p.m.; Mon. 30 vs. ELMIRA, 7:30 p.m.
Fri. 3 at Columbus, 7:35 p.m.; Sat. 4 at Columbus, 6:05 p.m.; Thurs. 9 at Danbury, 7 p.m.; Fri. 10 vs. ELMIRA, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 11 vs. ELMIRA, 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 17 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 18 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.; Wed. 22 vs. ELMIRA, 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 24 at Delaware, 7:05 p.m.; Sat. 25 at Delaware, 7:05 p.m.; Fri. 24 at Delaware, 3 p.m.; Wed. 29 vs. DANBURY, 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 31 vs. BATTLE CREEK, 7:30 p.m.
Sat. 1 vs. BATTLE CREEK, 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 7 at Carolina, 7:35 p.m.; Sat. 8 at Carolina, 6:05 p.m.; Fri. 14 at Elmira, 7:05 p.m.; Sat. 15 at Elmira, 7:05 p.m.; Sun. 16 vs. ELMIRA, 4 p.m.; Fri. 21 vs. DELAWARE, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 22 vs. DELAWARE, 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 28 vs. CAROLINA, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 29 vs. CAROLINA, 7:30 p.m.
Fri. 6 vs. PORT HURON, 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 7 vs. PORT HURON, 7:30 p.m.; Thurs. 12 at Elmira, 7:05 p.m.; Fri. 13 at Danbury, 7 p.m.; Sat. 14 at Danbury, 7 p.m.; Sun. 15 vs. DANBURY, 4 p.m.; Thurs. 19 at Elmira, 7:05 p.m.; Fri. 20 at Elmira, 7:05 p.m.; Sat. 21 vs. ELMIRA, 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 22 vs. ELMIRA, 4 p.m.; Fri. 27 at Mentor, 7:35 p.m.; Sat. 28 at Mentor, 6:30 p.m.; Sun. 29 at Mentor, 3 p.m.
Fri. 3 at Port Huron, 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 4 at Port Huron, 6 p.m.
— Home games in CAPS