WINCHESTER – A pair of exhibition wins has the Winchester Hawks’ management looking forward to more promise to come when the regular season kicks off next week.

Both the Embrun Panthers and Ottawa West Golden Knights were at the Joel Steele Community Centre last weekend, with the Hawks rallying for the victories.

Against the Panthers Sun., Sept. 8, Kyle Kuehni netted the overtime winner, following up on his two-goal game Sat., Sept. 7 versus the Golden Knights.

The veteran centre will also wear the “C” for Winchester this season.

“I’m very happy with the weekend… There is lots of room for improvement, but I think we have the talent to work with,” general manager Dom Menard said. “We are especially pleased with the camaraderie that has developed early on… There is a real buzz amongst the guys.”

The Hawks were in Brockville Wed., Sept. 4 to take on the Tikis, falling by a 7-5 mark. Rookie members of the squad carried the load, however, with Nathan Lassenba netting two markers, and Nicolas Corry and Alex Bergeron following with a goal each.

This year’s Winchester Hawks leadership group includes Brady Meldrum (left), a second-year member of the team, third-year veteran Kyle Kuehni, and Ryan Nielsen, an Ottawa native who joins the Hawks this season after two years with the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Blind River Beavers.

“They each worked both ends of the ice well,” Menard said.

Early on there has been a sign of light that’s been sorely needed with the Hawks.

Though the club missed the playoffs by just nine points last year, bested by the Char-Lan Rebels, Winchester struggled to keep the puck out of its own end, giving up 186 goals in the process.

Ahead of the season’s start, Menard noted the club now has a defence core that should help shift the pace of play.

“This year we’re in a better spot defensively… We’re going to be better prepared to play a defensive game this year,” he said.

Up front, the club sports two veteran-based lines, complete with players suited for the pace of the CCHL2. Alongside Kuehni, the expectation is Danny Johnson and Colby Schroeder will be on the wings, while the second line sees Kyle Fleming and Nolan Guertin pairing with Marco Haw, who came to the Hawks in a deal that sent former starting goaltender Brent Pledge Dickson to the Golden Knights.

Of the Pledge Dickson trade, Menard said it wasn’t an easy decision to make in terms of evaluating the assets, but one thing was abundantly clear – the Hawks were looking to get value back.

“In that respect, yes it was difficult, but on a personal level, no not at all,” he said. “I think overall, we’re very, very happy with the deal. I know Ottawa West is happy with the deal.”

Kuehni had a pair of goals in Sat., Sept. 7’s exhibition game against the visiting Ottawa West Golden Knights. Uhrig Photos

Along with Haw, Winchester also received defenceman Noah Weatherall, who had 12 points in 34 games last season.

The Hawks goaltending situation has also been sorted out, with veteran Lucas Devries having recommitted to the club.

“With Devries back, we’re okay. We’ll be fine – he can carry the ball,” Menard said.

Predictions this early on are often foolish, but the club’s coaching staff is fully committed to a single goal – a post-season berth.

“The goal right now is to make the playoffs. If everything stays in the right spot, we should be able to challenge for one of the top three spots,” Menard said. “A lot could happen, but we could use that spark. We’ll all be very, very happy if we can get into a real playoff series.”