Coming into a 2017-2018 season rife with changes, members of the Vankleek Hill Junior “C” Cougars hockey team will be looking towards a familiar target to keep themselves focused—that is, they’re keeping their eyes on the big prize.

This year sees Vankleek Hill native Norm Sauve take over as both head coach and general manager (GM) of the Cougars, after having served as assistant coach for the past three seasons.

Sauve says he expects a strong showing out of this year’s squad.

“We want to place high in the standings. We’ve got the team to do it.”

Sauve replaces former head coach, Marc Bernique, who coached the team for a total of five seasons—the last four, since 2013-2014, and a one-year stint in 2011-2012. He also takes over for Pascale Laliberte, who served as GM since 2013-2014.

Dawson Clatworthy will serve as assistant coach, with plans to add an additional assistant coach before the season begins.

The National Capital Junior Hockey League (NCJHL) will feature four new teams for the 2017-2018 season, bringing the league total to 12. The South Grenville Rangers, Bytown Royals, and Blackburn Inferno are completely new additions, while the former Embrun Panthers will now play out of Metcalfe as the Jets. The Papineau Vikings home ice this season will be St-Andre Avellin.

Sauve says, at this point, he thinks that most of the eligible players from last year’s team will be returning for this season. Norm’s son, Riley Sauve, headlines the list of returnees.

Riley, who is heading into his final year with the team, has his eyes on bringing home a league title.

“We’ve been close [to winning] recently. But this year’s my last shot, so I definitely want to win the whole thing,” the younger Sauve says.

Notably absent from this year’s team: goaltender Anthony Vassall. The 22-year old netminder played a star role for the Cougars last season in his final year of eligibility.

“We’re going to have to play a lot more defensively without Vassall,” coach Sauve says. “[We need] less shots on our net.”

Last year, the team finished fourth in the standings and reached the second round of the playoffs. The Cougars defeated The Rockland Nats in the first round before losing to the North Dundas Rockets in the semi-finals.

The Cougars training camp will begin on the weekend of September 8 to 10, finishing the proceeding weekend with a home-and-home exhibition series against the St-Isidore Eagles.

The season starts on September 23 with each of the 12 NCJHL teams playing in Gatineau to open the schedule. The Cougars will take on the Cumberland Bandits in their first game of the season.