By the time the L/A Nordiques hit the ice for their home opener at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Sept. 28 against the Northeast Generals, they will already have been road warriors to start the 2018-19 NA3HL season.
The Nordiques begin the season playing five road games, starting with a rematch of the Coastal Division final from the 2017-18 season against the New England Stars on Sept. 15. The five-game road trip will be the longest of the season. For head coach Cam Robichaud, that’s what he requested to the league.
“I kind of strategically set it up that way,” Robichaud said. “Obviously when you play your first home game in front of your fans, you want to be on top of your game. I didn’t just want to start at home with no games under our belt. It kind of worked out other teams had available dates in the beginning of September to host. I took advantage of that and put us on the road in the beginning. It also allows the team to bond early on by having to take a road trip.”
Robichaud was also considering other factors to starting on the road. With the season starting when it’s still summer, he knows most people aren’t thinking of hockey.
Weather was another factor he considered and wanting to get to get trips to New York and New Jersey out of the way before the snow falls. In that opening five-game road trip, the Nordiques take their only trip to visit the Skylands Kings in Hardyston Township, N.J. on Sept. 21-22.
A few weeks later they make their first trip to Long Beach, N.Y. to take on the Long Beach Sharks on October 5-6. They make a second second trip to Long Beach right after Christmas break on Jan. 4-5. They make their lone trip to Rochester, N.Y. on Oct. 20-21 to take on the Rochester Rivermen.
Part of the thinking to get three out of the four trips to two of the tri-states was in part what happened to the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, where the team bus was run into by a tractor-trailer truck, killing 16 of the 29 people on board on April 6 en route to a playoff game.
“Obviously it’s a tragic event that took place,” Robichaud said. “It’s unfortunate that an event such as that to take place for you to kind of step back and think about the safety. It should be top priority but obviously with the hustle and bustle of the season, you are sometimes aren’t thinking about travelling in the snow. You are just thinking about getting to the game no matter what. In a situation with the Broncos, it makes you take a step back and make you look at the bigger picture. Hockey is very important, but life is more important.”
The Nordiques finish the unofficial first half of the regular season playing 10 of the final 15 games before the Christmas break at home, including a five-game homestand from Oct. 27-Nov. 11.
The regular season ends Feb. 23-24 when they host the Rivermen.
In all, they play 44 games — 22 at home and 22 on the road. The breakdown includes eight games against the Maine Wild, Long Beach and the Cape Cod Islanders. They play six games against Northeast and New England and have four games against Skylands and Rochester.
The Nordiques take a break from regular-season play for the NA3HL showcase in Blaine, Minnesota, from Dec. 16-18, where they will play teams from conferences in the Midwest and Western part of the United States. The Top Prospects Tournament, which consists of the NA3HL’s six conference’s all-star teams takes place Feb. 18-19 in Plymouth, Michigan. The Fraser Cup Tournament. which consists of each conference champion to determine the league champion, takes place from March 27-31 in Chicago.
The Nordiques only play once at home during a regular-season New England Patriots game. The date is Nov. 11, when the Nordiques play the Stars at 2 p.m. while the Patriots travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans at 1 p.m. The Nordiques do have two games at home during the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, which takes place Jan. 12-13. The Nordiques host the Sharks on Saturday at 7 p.m. and again on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Robichaud doesn’t expect any true exhibition games to be played before the season, but is in talks with a few teams about a few controlled scrimmages where teams can work on even-strength and special teams situations.
Still rounding out the roster
Training camp will begin Sept. 1 and Robichaud is still getting the final pieces to the roster in place.
Robichaud has received commitments from a couple returners in Lewiston’s Cole Ouellette, who’s the reigning NA3HL Rookie and Defenseman of the Year after he had 18 goals and 41 assists in 45 games last year.
Fellow defenseman Andrew McCormick is also returning after falling victim to the “numbers games” at the Jamestown Rebels camp of the Tier II NAHL.
“I was told he had a very good camp with the Jamestown Rebels,” Robichaud said. “Unfortunately it came down to a numbers games, with him being a 20-year-old. They were going in a direction of taking a younger player that could have for multiple seasons instead of one.”
Robichaud has signed a defenseman in Nicolas Lusignan of Brigham, Quebec, who played for the Hill Academy outside of Toronto last season, where he had two goals and two assists in 15 games.
JP Chauvin, who had had 14 goals and 36 assists last year from the blue line, is still undecided if he will play in the NAHL or return to the Nordiques for his final junior season. He attended the Janesville Jets camp last month.
Forward Joshua Sanchez is visiting a Quebec Junior “AAA” team in Montreal this weekend and will make a decision if he will play in Quebec or return to Lewiston. Free-agent defenseman Cody Jablonski out of Jackson, N.J., who Robichaud has been in talks with, will decide either to play for the Nordiques or go play up in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Robichaud received a commitment from forward Michael Keller if he doesn’t make the Syracuse Stars of the USPHL’s Tier II league, the National Collegiate Development Conference. The Stars camp begins in late August.
A second-round draft pick in April, Sergei Anisimov, will be returning home to Russia after not making the Amarillo Bulls, who play in the NAHL. He played at the Hill Academy last season also.
Robichaud is in talks with an advisor about two players in Calgary and one from the Ukraine joining the Nordiques.
“They will be top-level players for us,” Robichaud said. “I am looking to round out with a couple more forwards — I am speaking with six currently. I am looking to round out the defense corps with one more signing.”