Settling in: Young players adjusting to hockey life as Smiths Falls Settlers
Darius Shashaweskun, 19 of Wemindji, Quebec, enjoys some quiet time in the common room of the Smiths Falls Settlers wing at the Gallipeau Centre. - Laurie Weir/Metroland
Michelle Morris, director of finance for the Smiths Falls Settlers, sits in her office at the Gallipeau Centre. She is also the wife of head coach, Frank Morris. - Laurie Weir/Metroland
Zac Zehnder, 18, of Nashville, and Jake Awan, 18, of Ogdensburg, hang out in the dorm rooms of the Smiths Falls Settlers at the Gallipeau Centre. - Laurie Weir/Metroland
Some of the Smiths Falls Settlers check their schedule written on the board outside their dorm rooms. The are Saul Muradi, Jovani Moses, Tommy Thomas and Kyle Fritz. - Laurie Weir/Metroland
Cousins John-Roy Watt, 17, and Allen Duncan, 16, play for the Settlers. They travelled to Smiths Falls from Nunavik after being enticed to the area by their coach. Neither boy has ever travelled this far away from home for an extended period of time and find the dorm life at the Gallipeau Centre pretty good so far. Here they are checking out their kitchen facilities in the Settlers win of the centre. - Laurie Weir/Metroland
The new Smiths Falls Settlers of the CHJPL have a wing at the Gallipeau Centre near Smiths Falls. This main hall which has been re-drywalled, painted and trimmed out, will be the new hall of fame honoring those members of this newly-developed junior hockey team. - Laurie Weir/Metroland
Frank Morris is the head coach and academy teacher for the Smiths Falls Settlers junior hockey team. Located at the Gallipeau Centre, the Settlers will play in the newly formed tier three, Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League. Morris was the former coach of the Glengarry Highlanders of this same league, and has since moved the team to Smiths Falls and re-branded it as the Smiths Falls Settlers with co-owner of BOSS Development, Barry DeGray of Smiths Falls. - Laurie Weir/Metroland
The Iron Kettle, located in the Gallipeau Centre, is working alongside the Smiths Falls Settlers to prepare three meals a day for team. The restaurant, owned by Amanda (serving) and Adrian Fournier (chef), is open to the public. - Laurie Weir/Metroland
The Iron Kettle, located in the Gallipeau Centre, is working alongside the Smiths Falls Settlers to prepare three meals a day for team. The restaurant, owned by Amanda (serving) and Adrian Fournier, is open to the public. - Laurie Weir/Metroland
Smiths Falls Settlers Ronnie Jolly defends against the Maniwaki Mustangs Sept. 23. The Settlers have not played in Smiths Falls since 1981-82 when that team became the eastern Ontario finalist. - Evelyn Harford/Metroland
Smiths Falls Settlers Adam Porter, takes out a player from the Maniwaki Mustangs Sept. 23. - Evelyn Harford/Metroland
Smiths Falls Settlers Shonwahnokon Thompson goes head-to-head with players from the Maniwaki Mustangs at their inaugural home opener at the Smiths Falls Memorial Community Centre on Saturday, Sept. 23. The Settlers have not played in Smiths Falls since 1981-82 when that team became the eastern Ontario finalist. The Settlers lost this tight battle, 4-2. - Evelyn Harford/Metroland
The new 12-team Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League is just two years old, and the Smiths Falls Settlers are now part of that league.
This is not your typical junior hockey venture. Under BOSS Development, co-owned and operated by Barry DeGray, and Frank and Michelle Morris, the Smiths Falls Settlers will stay and run its academy from the Gallipeau Centre as part of their operation.
Most of the boys on this junior squad are from out of town, and the need for accommodations arose during the recruitment stage last year. After several months of work behind the scenes, DeGray said they are now proud to call the centre home.
When you enter the Gallipeau Centre, you can’t help but be daunted by the quarter-mile length of hallway to the Settlers wing.
The Smiths Falls Settlers, some may remember, was the name of the junior team here from 1977 to 1982, which played in the Ontario Jr. B league.
The former Glengarry Highlanders have been rebranded Smiths Falls Settlers and they not only brought former players to town, but their head coach and his wife as well.
Frank and Michelle Morris are also co-owners of BOSS Development and they say they hope to turn this franchise into one where many young hockey players will want to come stay – and play.
The Record News caught up with them on Sept. 22 for a tour of their new digs, as well as some behind-the-scenes glances at what is in store for the new hockey team.
Frank took a lunch break from teaching a few of the team members at the academy located inside the Settlers wing, which is complete with a big screen television, a boardroom table and big comfy chairs, a couple of computers and lots of windows overlooking the expansive property.
The six students enrolled in online courses are home-schooled by way of an academic schedule from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. Frank said he’s looking to hire tutors to help the students with their work.
“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Frank said.
It was purely by chance that he met DeGray, as he had been living 28 years overseas and just started the Highlanders in Glengarry last year.
“When I started the junior team (in Glengarry), I wanted to start an academy as well. I didn’t know where … my wife and I were just keeping our ears to the ground. It was really by chance that we met Barry, and another friend who told me about this place – the Gallipeau Centre.”
Frank came to the centre in November of 2016 to have a look at the facility.
“I could see the massive potential. I didn’t jump at it, because it’s not that simple. It’s a lot of work."
The biggest part is the recruiting, he added, and if you’re a new program starting it's more difficult as the league hasn't been established yet.
What helped the transition were the Glengarry Highlanders and their track record there. As the youngest team in the league, they won the Michigan Showcase Tournament, “which was phenomenal – and we did it in style, going undefeated through the whole tournament,” he said. “And we were down about five players. So we have a very talented young team and the majority has returned to become Settlers.”
Frank played Canadian university hockey for five years, signed a contract with the Winnipeg Jets and “I was in the American Hockey League for a cup of coffee … played maybe 10 games.”
Then Frank headed to Europe where he played 18 years and coached professionally there for another five years.
He obtained his teaching certificate from Edinburgh University, in Scotland. Afterwards, he taught school for 13 years.
“While I was teaching, I worked with national teams – programs. I worked as the head coach for a minor hockey program in charge of all the teams. It is all experience, connections. I took teams to Latvia, Russia; we took our national teams to the British Conference Championships, which we won one year. You’re constantly building connections and networking with people. So I use those connections as a basis to start the recruitment process for the Smiths Falls Settlers.”
He said it’s been hard work but the interest is there.
“The biggest challenge is that it’s only going into its second year. Getting players to come to our league, we hit the stigmatization that we’re not Hockey Canada. We’re governed by the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union).”
PAY TO PLAY LEAGUE
There is a price per player to play in this league, and the team is trying to build a budget.
“So that cost falls on the players and the parents,” Frank said. “The players are working to help pay for the cost, and some parents are working to recoup those costs – through sponsorships or however they can.”
The cost is $6,500 plus tax, to play in this league.
“CCHL may be less, but they get more sponsorship and more people out to watch the games, which is what we are striving to do,” Frank said. “We are working on lowering our fees, getting a league sponsor, things like that. I know the league owner said he may have a corporate sponsor to help offset some of those costs.”
It’s frustrating, he said. “Hockey is pretty expensive. If you’re from out of town, the cost is $15,000 to come play here, live here … but we’re a very competitive price when you look around. You’re getting this facility, you’re getting a swimming pool, a gym, and meal plans … we’re running three off-ice sessions a day.”
It’s a new opportunity and people are interested in this league, the Settlers in particular, he said.
Frank said his goal is to have a prep school at the Gallipeau Centre.
“It looks like a prep school – it’s got that feel. Same feel as if you driving into Northwood in Lake Placid. Hopefully, we’ll have an alumni fund and get some academic bursaries for the kids who want to play here. These are all the things we’re working towards.”
Time management is the biggest thing the team is doing right, Frank said.
“It’s building routines into their days. I find that young teenage athletes are so distracted with modern technologies. It’s a great thing – to teach – but at nighttime, I’m knocking on dorms, (telling them to) switch off the phones, get off the X-box … they’re up at 8 a.m. They have to be up at 8 a.m.”
They are all on the same schedule to build the routines into their daily lives.
“The kids coming in are not used to the regime,” he said, but they work out any problems during team meeting time when they can iron out any issues.
Zac Zehnder, 18, hails from Nashville. This is his first time living in a dorm-setting and he said he’s enjoying it.
“It’s awesome to live with your teammates,” he said. “That translates to what we do and how well we do it on the ice.”
Zehnder played high school hockey and on a travelling team.
“This is like college and it’s good prep for that.”
Jake Awan of Ogdensburg is also 18. He met DeGray years ago at a skating clinic in Brockville and has kept in touch ever since.
“We didn’t really know much about the league, but I had heard about it. I had faith in Barry and I was committed,” he said.
Awan spent two years with the Bradford Rattlers Jr. A team of the GMHL and was a VanAm hockey counsellor in Lake Placid.
He said he’s looking forward to becoming more interacted with the community.
Nunavik cousins John-Roy Watt, 17 and Allen Duncan, 16, said they were connected to the Settlers from their coach back home.
“It’s a good experience,” Watt said.
Duncan added: “We’ve never done this before – but we’re looking forward to the games and the season.”
The Settlers opened their season Saturday at home to the Maniwaki Mustangs, but lost a 4-2 battle. They turned the corner on Monday night to post a 3-2 OT win against the Coldwater Ice Wolves.
DeGray said the Settlers played a stronger game Saturday night, but managed to pull back into contention on Monday to earn the win.
“They were right there Saturday night,” he said. “It was a better game … last night (Monday) they started slow, but held on and got the OT win.”
Scoring Monday for the Settlers were Reilly DeGray, Taylor Lemay and Darius Shashaweskum. Reilly had both goals in the team’s opener Saturday night.
The Settlers are on the road this Saturday night and will be meeting the Madawaska Valley Falcons on Sunday, Oct. 1. Then on Monday, Oct. 2, the team will play host to the Jr. Sharpshooters of Almonte. Game time is 7:30 p.m.