ARNPRIOR – It’s been a rollercoaster of a regular season for the Arnprior Rivermen, but assistant coach and Corkery resident Douglas Twining says the team is ready to finish the season strong and book their ticket for a long playoff run.
The Arnprior Rivermen debuted as one of four Eastern Ontario Super Hockey League (EOSHL) teams in the leagues inaugural season in 2019-2020, back then known as the West Carleton Rivermen. The team was dominant that season with 14 wins, two losses, one tie and one overtime loss in the regular season, and earned a trip to the finals in the playoffs, losing in the fifth game of the five-game series to the Cornwall Prowlers.
The team moved to Arnprior in time for the 2021-2022 season, the second EOSHL season as 2020-2021 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Arnprior, the team hasn’t found that success yet, but is ready to change that this year.
The team has had an up-and-down season so far and is currently in fifth place in the eight-team EOSHL East Division with a 6-8-0-1, and only one point out of fourth, currently held by the South Grenville Rangers (7-8-0-0).
The Rivermen started the season 0-3, but then found their winning touch with a 6-2 run over the next eight games. The Rivermen are currently in a bit of a slide, losing their last four against the top teams in the league, including a 10-6 loss to the South Grenville Rangers last Saturday (Jan. 13).
Twining, who has been with the team since Day 1, and is in his first year as an assistant coach, says the Rivermen are ready to give fans a long playoff run this year in a league that has grown to 15 teams in 2023-2024.
“The season is going great,” Twining told West Carleton Online today (Jan. 17). “We’ve had a couple of losses recently, but the players are ready to put that behind them this weekend.”
This year’s Rivermen team is a mix of youth and veterans, bringing in a lot of new players, but still having several veterans who have been on the team since Day 1 including team owner Galetta’s Adrian Moyes.
The Rivermen roster, as well as most EOSHL teams, is filled with players with junior experience, American college and Canadian university experience, American Hockey League experience and even a few former National Hockey League players.
Once again Stittsville’s Alex Hulford, a Rivermen original, leads the team in scoring with 14 goals and 10 assists in 14 games. The 29-year-old is a leader on the team.
“He was a great goal-scorer in the past and is doing it again,” Twining said. “And he’s a great leader in the locker room. He brings a lot of energy.”
Thiry-four-year-old team owner Moyes is having one of his best seasons in the EOSHL. The former semi-professional player who played for the Salzgitter Icefighters in Germany before returning to Canada, is second in team scoring with seven goals and nine assists this season.
“He’s well above a point-a-game and still bringing it,” Twining said.
All the more amazing as Moyes, as team owner, has lots of paperwork to do throughout the season and regularly leads the intermission entertainment such as the popular Chuck-a-Puck game.
“It gives the players a chance to interact with the kids,” Twining said. “They love having the chance to engage with the fans.”
Rivermen captain Ryan Duhaime is also an original Rivermen and the 29-year-old Stittsville native is leading the team from the back.
“He’s a shutdown defenceman,” Twining said. “As a coach you couldn’t ask for a better player.”
The Rivermen have added some young blood this season, and some of the names are familiar to Arnprior hockey fans.
Nolan McGregor, a 21-year-old Braeside native, is coming off a highly productive Eastern Ontario Junior Hockey career, leading the Arnprior Packers last year with an incredible 43 goals and 58 assists in only 38 games in 2022-2023.
McGregor has only been able to suit up for eight games so far this season but has four goals and four assists and 22 penalty minutes.
“He’s a little firecracker,” Twining said. “A lot of punch. He’s been a great addition. Plays both ends of the ice and has been in a couple of scraps.”
Petawawa’s Sutton Allard is in his second season with the Rivermen and has two goals and five assists. Before joining the Rivermen, Allard spent a couple of seasons playing semi-pro hockey in France. If the last name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you heard his brother’s name throughout the Christmas holidays. Owen Allard was a member of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship team playing in Sweden just a few weeks ago.
“It’s interesting having Sutton’s perspective on the team,” Twining said.
Twining says the quality of hockey in the EOSHL is a big part of the allure. While many of the players are coming from high level hockey, some even graduate up from the league.
The Rivermen’s Serron Noel of Nepean at 23-years-old was recently signed to the Newfoundland Growlers of the East Coast Hockey League and now has two goals and 49 penalty minutes in nine games.
“This is not a final stop for some of these guys by any means,” Twining said. “It’s a pleasure to coach these guys.”
This season, the top six teams in each of the two divisions will make the playoffs. That means two teams in the EOSHL East Division will be eliminated at the end of the regular season and one team from the seven-team West Division.
The 4-11-0 Cornwall Prowlers are currently in seventh in the east and five points behind the Rivermen who currently hold the second last playoff spot. The Rivermen have five games left to secure their playoff berth.
Twining says the team is eager to do that, despite the recent four-game losing streak.
“The room is still very positive,” he said. “They want to be on the ice. We’re looking to make a strong jump in to the playoffs. The boys know it’s playoff time soon.”
For Twining, who has done everything for the team including being the trainer and equipment manager, says he is enjoying his new view from the Rivermen bunch.
“It’s fantastic,” Twining said. “You get to see the community support on both sides of the stands. You get to see the speed of the game. It’s fantastic hockey. To see the speed and the skill and the desire to play, the grit and sandpaper, it’s fantastic.”
Twining says the growth of the league has also been fantastic to watch. Despite two years of COVID-19 the EOSHL has nearly quadruped in size, from four to 15 teams in four seasons.
“The growth has been incredible,” Twining said. “Some of the small towns are filling their barns. Not just the stands but lining the boards as well.”
While the Rivermen haven’t quite enjoyed that kind of attendance, Twining says every game more fans are showing up.
“We’re seeing more and more people in the stands and the players notice it,” he said. “The fantastic volunteersim the Town of Arnprior has shown us. We have an exceptional group of individuals who join the team to make things happen on game day. These games can’t take place without these volunteers.”
But the Rivermen are firmly focused on solidifying their playoff spot, and Twining says he expects the team to play some of its best hockey of the year in the coming weeks.
“We’re starting to get lots of offensive punch,” he said. “We’re getting the right guys on the ice, due to more availability (one of the challenges of the EOSHL is all the players work full-time jobs). Things are settling down and guys are coming out.”
And that starts this Saturday (Jan. 20) with a huge match-up against the South Stormont Mustangs (12-4-0) who are in second in the East Division, 11 points ahead of the Rivermen.
“The guys are ready for it,” Twining said. “There’s a lot of confidence in the room and a get-to-the-puck-first-attitude.”
The Rivermen play the Mustangs at the Nick Smith Centre (77 James St.) Saturday with puck drop at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for youth 13 to 17 and anyone under 18 is free if accompanied by an adult.
There is a licensed section in the arena featuring local products from Cold Bear Brewery and Dunrobin Distillery as well as intermission entertainment including Chuck-a-Puck and 50/50 tickets.