It’s a time of change for the Hawkesbury Hawks, as the local Junior A club prepares for the upcoming Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) season. But change can often be a good thing.

After four wins and two losses in exhibition play, the Hawks open up their 2022-2023 regular season with back-to-back games against the Rockland Nationals this weekend. On Friday, September 23, Rockland visits the Robert Hartley Sports Complex in a 7:30 p.m. start, while Hawkesbury travels to Rockland on Saturday, September 24.

With the departure of former general manager and 2021-2022 CCHL Coach of the Year Rick Dorval, who left the Hawks this summer for an assistant coaching position with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Sudbury Wolves, the Hawks have an entirely new front office and coaching staff for the 2022-2023 season. Marc Bernique, who worked with Dorval as the assistant GM, as well as an assistant coach for the past few seasons, took over in August as general manager and later named former Hawks netminder Charles Lavigne – who spent the last four years as part of the Rockland Nationals organization – as head coach. Assistant coach Damien Charette is from L’Orignal and played for the Hawks, as did new goaltending coach Mathieu Chenier, a native Hammond, who played for the local squad when Bernique was coach of the team.

The Hawks having a front office and coaching squad comprised of local residents and former players is not an accident.

“I’m trying to get the local feel back,” Bernique said. “If we can get people interested locally and get more fans (following) the team, then their first choice on Friday night will be to come out and see the Hawks, instead of going to a movie or something.”

While the team lost some key players from last season and will be one of the younger teams in the CCHL, Bernique expects that like last season, the Hawks will rise near the top by season’s end.

“I think we’re a top four team in this league,” said Bernique. “We’ve lost some pieces, but we’ve had some new pieces that have come in who should help alleviate some of those losses.”

The Hawks current need is on defense – particularly since the loss of veteran defenseman Djibril Touré, who followed his former coach Dorval to Sudbury.

“That was a last minute thing we didn’t plan on,” Bernique sighed.

The defensive corps is also inexperienced, the team’s GM noted, and will need time to develop through the season. Veteran rearguard Felix Sauvé, from Alexandria, will be counted on to lead the young defensive squad through the early months of the season.

“I think we’ve got a good leadership group – (Sauvé) is going to be a good leader,” said Bernique, who also pointed to experience in the forward positions. “(Jakson) Kirk and (Jeremy) Tremblay should be good leaders for us up front.”

“Scoring goals I don’t think will be a problem. Offensively we’ve got a lot of firepower.”

Forwards Landon Brownlee and Antoine Dorion, who were both rookies last season, are expected to play more prominent roles on the Hawks in 2022-2023. The Hawks GM also expects young defenseman Bradley Horner, a native of Vankleek Hill, to take a big step forward this season.

“Horner, who was a 16-year-old last year, has matured a lot and showed it in camp,” Bernique observed. “He’s a local kid and we’re going to bank on him to anchor our defense.”

In 2021-2022 the Hawks built throughout the season to end up as one of the top Junior A teams in the country. Bernique expects to follow a similar pattern this season.

“I’m still looking for pieces,” said the Hawks GM, who has been on the phone with other teams to inquire about potential players.

Despite the loss of Dorval, who coached the team to great success over the years, Bernique is optimistic the Hawks will continue to be a great team in the CCHL. He believes the upcoming season will be the start of a very positive future for the Hawkesbury Junior A club.

“We’re opening up the book on this new era,” said the Hawks GM, who wished Dorval all the best in his coaching future in the OHL. “Let’s embrace the challenge of keeping the team competitive.”

“I want to put a product on the ice that people want to come and see. If we do some fine tuning during the year, I think we’ll be right in the mix at the end.”