Jason Baier, owner of the Fergus Whalers, says he’s always up for a challenge.
That’s one of the reasons the longtime local businessman took on the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s request to bring hockey back to Centre Wellington.
And so far, Baier said putting a team together over the past year has been “a roller coaster ride” of excitement and energy.
“Momentum is building, and it’s been an outstanding adventure since Day 1,” Baier said.
Since the Fergus Devils folded up after the 2014-15 season, the community has been without a hockey club to showcase its homegrown talent on the ice. Players have had to continue their careers in nearby communities, or hope to catch on with a larger-market team.
But that’s expected to change in the coming weeks.
Starting in September, the Whalers will be welcoming fans to the CW Sportsplex for their opening game. The Whalers will be competing in a 42-game schedule in the tough North Pollock Division, with their eyes on making a run at the Schmalz Cup.
The first game is scheduled for September 17, when the Whalers host the Mitchell Hawks for a 3:00 pm contest. Tickets are available at the door, or by contacting the team.
What to expect from the Whalers in ‘23-24
In its inaugural year, Baier said a big part of the team makeup will be its focus on developing talent from the community.
That includes team captain Jack McDonald, a local Elora athlete the Whalers acquired from the Exeter Hawks over the summer.
“Jack is going to lead our hockey club both on and off the ice by example,” Baier said. “He’s a great individual, comes from a great family, and we're really pleased to have him as part of our hockey club.”
The Whalers also swung a deal with the Walkerton Capitals to acquire J.J Lavigne, another Fergus talent. Lavigne was voted the league’s “Most Sportsmanlike Player,” scoring 22 points and only accumulating 8 penalty minutes over the course of 34 games last season.
Other locals include forward Aidan Mead, who laced up for 42 games with the Capitals, and defenceman teammate Ryan Oakes.
Oakes will be joined on the blueline by 6’2” Ryan McDougall.
“McDougall is a big, strong defenseman, who played in the U-18 in Guelph last year, we’re really pleased to have him on the team,” Baier said.
Baier said it was a major focus of the Whalers management group to build from within the community.
“When I got the team, that was going to be one of our pillars – to have local players as part of our team,” Baier said. “We want to develop young kids that are coming up to Centre Wellington, or kids within the community that had to play away from the Fergus area because of not having a team locally within it.”
“And I can assure you, the kids that are playing for us now, they're local, and they are extremely excited to be playing in front of their families, in front of their hometown fans.”
Meet the Whalers staff
There’s also plenty of local talent behind the bench. Ryan Black is the Whaler’s head coach, while Randy Coverdale, Mark Martin and Jeff Hoelscher assist. Craig Dool is the team’s general manager.
“They’re all local, all strong, community-minded individuals,” Baier said. “They’ll be a great leadership group and a great influence on our team.”
The team is hoping that the overall product taking the ice is not only entertaining for fans, but continues to bring community pride to the arena.
Ryan Duck is the team’s alternate governor, and has been “riding shotgun” with Baier on the project since the idea was first proposed by the team.
“The community is very supportive,” Baier said. “It’s a strong sports community, and the more they hear about the Whalers, the more they’re getting excited.”
The hardest-working team in hockey
But how does a first-year team put a competitive product on the ice? Baier said it’s all about hard work and preparation, an ethic that most of the people in Centre Wellington will get behind.
“Our goal as a team and organization is to be competitive every night,” Baier said. “What we're really going to hang our hat on is the depth of our hockey club.”
“We're really hoping that we can be a team that continues to roll four lines consistently, roll out our defence and play our goalies consistently to a point where our depth can outweigh the opposition.”
Baier said he’s hoping that the Whalers also display a little “in-your-face” attitude.
“We’re going to outwork teams,” he said. “That's our goal. Whether we win or lose, we’re going to make sure we're the hardest working team on the ice, and let her talent takeover.”
Tickets are on sale right now by contacting the Whalers front office, or at the door on game day.