New Challenge Cup season opens today

Published on May 12, 2017

The St. Lawrence Laurentians look to make it two straight Challenge Cup provincial soccer titles this season.

©Keith Gosse/The Telegram

It will be a changing of the guard with Holy Cross this summer, and a long-standing Laurentian won’t be around much as St. Lawrence looks to defend its championship in the Molson Challenge Cup Soccer League, which opens a new season today.

The busy 78-game schedule kicks off with a trio of games today, highlighted by a rematch of last year’s final with the Laurentians travelling to Mount Pearl for a game against the First Choice Haircutters. Game time is 7 p.m.

Elsewhere, Holy Cross Kirby Group take on C.B.S. That Pro Look 4 o’clock at King George V Park in St. John’s, while Feildians start their season on the road, playing Corner Brook Steers Insurance in the west coast city at 6 p.m.

On Sunday, Corner Brook and Feildians hook up again at the Wellington Complex, and Mount Pearl heads to Topsail to play C.B.S.

Canada Games Gerry O’Brien Financial Group is the other team. The Games squad will play a reduced schedule.

The Laurentians won the title last season — their second in four years — with a 2-1 decision over Mount Pearl in the final.

Young Brent Hennebury, who was named the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association’s junior player of the year, netted the game-winner in overtime.

Hennebury removed himself from the Canada Games program, and will be playing full-time for the Laurentians this summer.

Also back is NLSA senior player of the year and playoff MVP John Douglas, the St. Lawrence keeper. So is reigning league scoring champ Stefan Slaney, who popped 22 goals last season.

One player you won’t see around much is perennial all-star Clinton Edwards, a Laurentian mainstay since 1999. Edwards, who received all-star honours last season, and his wife recently moved out west, although there is still a hope he can get in six regular-season games to qualify for playoffs.

St. Lawrence will play its first eight games on the road, and won’t have its home opener until June 17 when it faces Mount Pearl at Centennial Field.

The reason is that while Centennial Field is a natural-grass pitch and needs time to grow in, all the other teams in the league play on artificial surfaces. The upside for the Laurentians is that their schedule also means they won't have any away games after July 16.

“It’s not really a big deal,” said St. Lawrence coach Derek Strang. “Most of our players are in the St. John’s area anyway. We only travel from St. Lawrence with four or five guys.”

Strang reports the Laurentians have been training regularly — either as a team or in smaller groups — since January.

There are a couple of changes in Mount Pearl, the most noteworthy coming along the sidelines as Ryan Caines has hung up the cleats and takes over as the full-time coach.

“I think that’s a good thing for us right now at the start of the season, to have some continuity there,” said veteran Mount Pearl’s all-star centre-midfielder, Mark Reddy.

Andrew Murphy was handling the playing-coach chores last season, when he wasn’t guiding the Canada Games team.

Murphy is still coaching the Games squad, but now will focus on strictly playing when the 2017 Winnipeg Games are done in August.

The big addition to Mount Pearl, however, is Michael O’Brien.

O’Brien has spent the last three and a half years in Ottawa with the Ottawa Fury FC Academy. A 6-0 defender, O’Brien was on the Fury FC’s reserve squad last season, and spent some time practising with the pro squad.

O’Brien is also slated to join the Memorial Sea-Hawks in the fall.

It will be a season of change for Holy Cross, which sees Jeremy Babstock take over as coach from Jake Stanford, who had been with the Crusaders in a coaching capacity for 10 years.

Stanford will remain as the Holy Cross women’s coach, in addition to coaching the Memorial Sea-Hawks’ men’s squad.

Holy Cross has a big hole to fill with the departure of reigning MVP and all-star midfielder Zach Wade. Wade is not playing for work-related reasons.

Also, Andre Le is not back in the fold after moving to Ottawa.

“You’re going to see a lot of young guys coming into the program,” Babstock said.

Among the youngsters are Sea-Hawks Sean Henderson and Fomba Fambulleh.
Holy Cross stalwarts Jake Warren, a former league MVP, keeper Thomas Pieroway and all-star midfielder Owen McAleese are returning to the team which lost only twice in 22 regular season games last season.

The Crusaders, however, will be looking to bounce back after losing back-to-back games on Championship Weekend.

The top four teams in the 2017 regular season will advance to the Labour Day championship weekend Sept. 1-3.