As both head coach and general manager of the Hawkesbury Hawks, about the only thing Rick Dorval doesn’t do for the team is sign the cheques.

Coming into his fourth season as head coach and second as general manager, Dorval wants to build on the progress the team has made since he joined in 2014-2015. And if last season was a step forward, this season, Rick Dorval wants his team to take the full leap.

“We want to be right there with the contenders,” Dorval says.

Earning their wings

Dorval highlights dressing room culture and player commitment as two of the most important areas for the team to improve upon this season.

“I think the biggest thing is commitment—we need (to develop) more of an earn-first mentality. We want to be the hardest working team in the league.”

As part of that approach, Dorval says this year’s team identity will centre around puck possession and “meat and potatoes” type players to support the skilled play the team relied on in previous seasons.

Last year’s team finished fourth in the regular season standings, before bowing out in six games to the Kemptville 73’s during the first round of the Central Canadian Hockey League (CCHL) playoffs. The team was without both its second leading scorer, Brett Everson, and top defenseman, Matt Eller, for the post-season, having lost both to injury during the early stages of the series.

Only five players from the 2016-2017 Hawks team will return for the upcoming year. This means that Dorval and his staff have had to pay extra attention to their recruiting efforts this off-season. Although it does increase his workload, he says being both coach and general manager makes this particular task a little easier; it gives him the opportunity to directly address his roster needs based on what he sees behind the bench and in the dressing room.

One of the newly recruited players Dorval highlighted is goaltender Matt Pitizian. Coming off a career year at Northwood Prep in Lake Placid, Pitizian has attracted significant attention from Central Junior teams during the past few seasons. Dorval says he’s confident the young goaltender will make a big impact with the team.

“Matt was our key acquisition this off-season. He’s going to be the backstop of this hockey team. We’re very excited about him.”

Building the nest

But coach Dorval is not only concerned with the product on the ice; he also wants the team to develop as much community connection as possible. To that end, he and his staff have been encouraging players to volunteer and engage with the community on a more regular basis.

“I want to bring back that fan support and to do that, you can’t just ask for it—you have to give the fans a quality product. You also have to give the players involvement in the community, so the community feels these guys are their own.”

The Hawks coach hopes the addition of staff members local to the Hawkesbury area will also help boost engagement from the community. This season, the Hawks hired NHL alumnus Lou Nistico as assistant GM. He joins assistant coach Hamish Cunning, and statistician Mackenzie Hinton as staff members hailing from the Eastern Ontario region.

The Hawks’ camp begins August 21 and the season on September 2.