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Rebels Players In For Eye-Opener On Wednesday

Joe Coombs, Jamestown Rebels head coach and general manager, speaks to the team during practice Saturday morning at Northwest Arena. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

Several members of the Jamestown Rebels are in for an eye-opening experience come Wednesday.

The North American Hockey League Showcase starts that afternoon in Blaine, Minnesota, and for many of the Rebels, their 8:30 game that night against the Springfield Jr. Blues will be their first taste of junior hockey.

“I’m not sure if they’re realizing it’s an opportunity or not. I think that the self-evaluation process is immature at this stage in their careers,” Joe Coombs said Saturday morning before cutting his roster down to 24 players. ” … In every league, every time that you move up a level, you always think ‘I’m going to be good.’ They are good, but they don’t have immediate success. That lack of immediate success, especially with today’s kids, wanes on them.”

Forced to go dormant for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19, Jamestown was unable to retain any of its players from the 2019-20 season. That forced Coombs, the head coach and general manager, to go back to his roots building a team.

“We’re always learning. This has been interesting to say the least,” he said. ” … Not having one player returning is an entirely new situation.”

Twenty-year-old forward John Lundy will be the Rebels captain this season.

“He’s a (NCAA) Division I-committed player. We really felt like where he comes from was important,” Coombs said. “He’s from a working-class family in the Bronx. From the first day, the way he carries himself and his effort, and his willingness to stick his nose in, he’s a little bit undersized. We felt that he could lead our team.”

The 5-foot-9, 163-pound forward played in 41 games for the Amarillo Bulls and Austin Bruins last season, scoring nine goals to go along with 14 assists.

“There are a couple older guys to lean on and give me help,” Lundy said. “It’s a team effort. The quicker we gel, the quicker we’ll find success.”

Lundy will be joined in the leadership group by Brett Morich, a 20-year-old forward from Phoenix, Arizona.

“Brett is a really self-taught player and a real student of the game. He takes care of himself away from the rink,” Coombs said. ” … I think they are a nice compliment for one another. … Brett just lives a life that most people don’t. … He’s a wonderful kid.”

Last season, Morich played in 39 games for the USPHL Premier League’s Utah Outliers, scoring 14 goals to go along with 23 assists.

“The North American League is an older league so obviously there are going to be some big boys out there,” Morich said. “It’s going to be some tough hockey, some fast hockey. … I’m really excited to get to Blaine.”

Morich may be familiar to Rebels fans because he played 17 games for the team during the 2019-20 season, scoring two goals and adding an assist.

Coombs also pointed to several other players who have made a favorable impression during their first two weeks of practice.

Eighteen-year-old Kolby Amici played alongside Lundy on the first line during Jamestown’s two scrimmages with the Johnstown Tomahawks last week. Amici, hailing from Orchard Park, played two seasons with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres before moving on to the Nichols School for three seasons.

Jak Vaarwerk is another former Buffalo Jr. Sabre who played four seasons in the organization. Born in East Amherst, the 5-foot-11, 172-pound Vaarwerk centered the Rebels’ second line during their scrimmages.

On defense, Coombs liked what we saw out of 17-year-old Owen West and 20-year-old Aidan Torres.

West is a 5-foot-11, 179-pound left-handed shooter from Pittsboro, Indiana, who spent time with the United States U17 national team last year.

Torres played in the NAHL last season with the Wichita Falls Warriors and at 212 pounds, adds some size to the Jamestown blue line.

“We have every intention of adding players. We’re waiting on USHL cuts, maybe a couple of trades,” Coombs said. ” … We’re one of the few teams that are this low in numbers.”

Finally, Coombs plans on going with a rotation in goal to at least start the season, and one of the netminders will be 18-year-old Jack Wieneke. A 6-foot-1, 161-pounder from Plymouth, Minnesota, Wieneke posted a 1.65 goals against average and .916 save percentage for Maple Grove High School last season en route to being named the Frank Brimsek Award winner as Minnesota’s top senior goalie.

“We’re on the market for a starting goalie,” Coombs said. ” … A kid we recruited this summer to leave the USHL and come back here quit hockey.”

Whatever the makeup of the remainder of the roster is, they won’t have a lot of time to get up to the speed of the NAHL.

“You can tell them all you want,” Coombs said, “but you can’t help on the ice.”

“There are two ways of looking at it: we can look it as a negative, but we want to look at it as a positive,” Morich added. “It’s an opportunity. We have a chance here to establish a new culture, a completely new mindset where everybody if focused on constant improvement day in and day out.”

NOTES: After playing the Blues on Wednesday, the Rebels will take on the North Iowa Bulls on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., the Lone Star Brahmas on Friday at 2:45 p.m. and the Odessa Jackalopes on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. All of the games will be at the NSC Super Rink in Blaine. … Jamestown will open its regular season Friday, Sept. 24 and Saturday, Sept. 25 against the New Jersey Titans at Northwest Arena. Both games are slated for 7:05 p.m. puck drops.

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