The Vankleek Hill Cougars will kick off their 2021-2022 regular season with a pair of games this weekend, including the club’s home opener on Sunday, October 3, as the team’s ownership welcomes a new partner to the family.

The local Junior C squad will travel to Prescott on Friday, October 1, to face the South Grenville Rangers in the season opener for both teams. On Sunday afternoon, October 3, the Cougars will host the Morrisburg Lions in their home opener at the Vankleek Hill Arena, with the game scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. With two games in two days, the club is hoping to get off to a fast start this season.

“We should be a top four team in the league this year in my opinion,” said Cougars Head Coach Franky Dopelhamer after Cougars completed their exhibition schedule with a 5-2 win over the Clarence Castors.

The Cougars had 45 players try out for the team this year – the highest number in the three years Dopelhamer has been coaching the club. As Junior C teams in the National Capital Junior Hockey League (NCJHL) are composed primarily of local players, the turnout at camp was encouraging for the owners and coaches.

To help keep up with other teams in the NCJHL, the Cougars also recently acquired three new players. First the team traded with the Almonte Inferno for the playing rights of Joshua Renaud. In the last season played in 2019-2020, Renaud was producing at more than a point per game, with 20 goals, 17 assists in 32 games.

The Cougars followed up that move with another trade with Cochrane Crunch of the NOJHL for the playing rights of local player, Simon Levac. The team also acquired Jeremy Marcotte, who recently played with the St-Jerome Panthers and Gatineau Flames of the Junior AAA of Quebec. Both Simon and Jeremy attended École Secondaire Publique Le Sommet in Hawkesbury.

“Their experience at Junior A level, along with Renaud, will be counted on to carry some of the load offensively,” said Dopelhamer, who welcomed the trio to the Cougars family.

The big news for the Cougars is that owners Dopelhamer and Greg McEachern have been joined by a third partner. Carl Bougie, former coach of the St-Isidore Aigles, will join the Cougars as both an ownership partner and assistant coach.

The Cougars were unable to play a single game in the 2020-2021 season, as COVID-19 forced the National Capital Junior Hockey League (NCJHL) to suspend play for all teams. Teams were only allowed to practice or at most play modified scrimmages against one other league team. With the 2021-2022 season finally allowing a return to the regular season, players, coaches and owners are all excited to see the team back on the ice.

“Just playing exhibition games was really fun and we can’t wait to get the season started,” Dopelhamer said.

The Cougars will be allowed a maximum of 100 fans in the Vankleek Hill Arena for Sunday’s home opener against the Morrisburg Lions. The club’s ownership is expecting to have a full house on hand to watch the team’s first regular season game in more than a year and a half, Dopelhamer said, after the team received enthusiastic support in preseason.

“We had roughly 100 people at both of our home exhibition games, so people are anxious to see some hockey.”

Fans can keep track of the team’s results and upcoming games by visiting the Vankleek Hill Cougars website.