A pair of Saanich junior hockey players are playing their first full junior A season as over-agers, proving you should never give up until the game is over.
At 20 years old and in their final season of junior eligibility, former Saanich Braves Hunter Atchison and Seamus Maguire have finally found a permanent home in junior A with the Cochrane Crunch of the Northern Ontario Junior A Hockey League. Not only are they a key part of the team, they are enjoying surprising offensive breakouts and lead the team, and league, in scoring. Atchison is first in the league with 73 points in 33 games while Maguire is sixth in the league with 53 points in 30 games.
“The last time I led my league in scoring was in midget, and I didn’t know what to expect coming to Cochrane,” Atchison said during a visit home for the holidays. “I worked hard this summer to take my game to the next level and it is paying off.”
The two found instant chemistry playing on the same line for the first time in their life when they arrived in Cochrane to start the season. And now both are being scouted for CIS and NCAA level hockey.
As Braves, Maguire and Atchison each played centre, but since arriving in Cochrane, Maguire has lined up on the right wing with Atchison down the middle.
It’s been a huge success for the Crunch, where the duo have helped the team to first place in the NOJHL East division. The team is still growing its fan base after relocating there a year ago.
“The huge thing for us was the instant chemistry we had, it changed everything,” Maguire said. “It was clicking right from the start of the season, every bounce we needed.”
It was Maguire who connected with the Crunch first when he signed a playing card, sight unseen, in the offseason. Crunch owner/coach/general manager Ryan Leonard trusted Maguire as a recommendation by the assistant coach of the Flin Flon Bombers, a team Maguire played for in 2013-14 but left partway through last season to rejoin the Braves.
Before arriving, Maguire then endorsed Atchison, who had a similar season last year when he returned to the Braves from the Trail Smoke Eaters.
With the Braves in 2014-15, Atchison had 30 points in 36 games while Maguire had 21 points in 28 games. Certainly they looked poised to break out, but not necessarily at the junior A level.
Maguire said the difference between the BCHL and the NOJHL, which are both known to produce NCAA Div. 1 players, is the depth.
“The thing with the BCHL is even a bad team has four good lines, whereas teams here are mostly two [skill] lines,” Maguire said.
Both Maguire and Atchison agreed a handful of teams could certainly compete in the BCHL. Among those are the league’s first overall Soo Thunderbirds and the Crunch’s East division rivals, the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, Maguire said.
On the ice, the accolades are piling up. The players expect even better scholarship offers pending a strong post-season. And last month Maguire and Atchison represented the NOJHL in the Eastern Canada Cup All Star Challenge, a junior A tournament with all-star teams from the Central Canadian Hockey League, Ontario Junior Hockey League, Quebec Junior Hockey League and Maritime Hockey League.
Off the ice, it’s been a different kind of learning curve. Cochrane is a gateway to Ontario’s hunting and fishing territory, and the people take it serious. As a team, the Crunch went fishing for three days in the pre-season. And when hunting season opened in the fall, the stands were visibly emptier.
“They are big on hunting, with moose and bear hunting camps just a few hours away,” said Maguire, who hunted partridge on his billet’s 140-acre property.
Surprisingly, Maguire and Atchison aren’t the only locals on the Crunch. Victoria’s Braeden Pearce also joined the team this year as well as former Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League players Lucas Robinson (Comox Valley Glacier Kings) and Taylor Armbruster (Kerry Park Islanders).
Ironically, Pearce was recently traded away for Brandon Workun, a former Victoria Cougar who once faced Atchison and Maguire in the VIJHL.
After a few cracks at the Nanaimo Clippers, former Brave Nick Guerra has found a home in the BCHL with the Prince George Spruce Kings.