Norwich Merchants ready to return with new voices behind the bench

When the Norwich Merchants return to the ice, perhaps early next month, they'll have a new look behind the bench. Bill Polzin

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When the Norwich Merchants return to the ice, perhaps early next month, they’ll have a new look behind the bench.

Keli Corpse is the team’s head coach after the Merchants parted ways with Jared Boersma during the holiday break that was extended due to to provincial restrictions resulting from rising COVID-19 cases.

“We just needed a change,” Norwich general manager Andy Riley said. “I thought we needed to step up our game a little bit, and hopefully we did.”

Boersma guided the Provincial Junior Hockey League club to a 6-13-2-3 record in his first season as bench boss. Riley cited inexperience as one reason for the switch, which also resulted in assistants Darryl Wilson and Justin Hopkins being let go.

Norwich simply wasn’t meeting expectations, Riley added.

“It was just time for a change.”

Feelers were put out for a new voice, and the Merchants connected with Corpse, a 47-year-old who lives in Woodstock. Corpse played five seasons with Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League and holds the Frontenacs’ record with 420 points. The Montreal Canadiens’ second-round pick in 1992 never made the NHL, but he spent several seasons playing in professional and semi-pro leagues.

He coached the Ayr Centennials a decade ago when they were part of the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

“He’s definitely a disciplined coach, which is one thing I think we’re lacking,” Riley said. “That’ll change our approach a lot. He’s an experienced coach and has played the game at a high level, which makes a difference getting your point across to kids.”

Rich Morton, Scott Britton and Jack Vessoyan will join Corpse behind the bench. The group had one practice before arenas were shut down across Ontario, and they’ll try to turn around a fifth-place team once play resumes.

“I think we were subpar,” Riley said of the season to date. “We could tie some of the good teams on certain nights and struggle to beat some of the poorer teams. It was just a tough first three months.”

Riley also noted Norwich’s need for more production from veteran players. Overager Jack Gee (13G, 13A) and 20-year-old Austin Forsyth (12G, 12A) are the lone Merchants to reach double-digit goals and are averaging at least a point per game. The Merchants have also struggled defensively, allowing about five goals on more than 34 shots per game.

“Our defence has gotta tighten up. That’s probably our biggest project,” Riley said. “Keli will come with systems to help with that.”

The biggest positive through 24 games? Just being able to play, Riley said.

“It’s always fun to go to the arena. You see the kids, and we have such great support fan wise, our rink is probably as full as any. It’s good social value for the village, and something Norwich needs to have.”

Riley said he expects teams to resume play around Feb. 4, with postponed games rescheduled in the Doherty Division.

He “can’t wait” for the Merchants’ playoff push.

“I’m not saying we’re building for next year already, but we have something in the tank and can compete with the top four teams (Wellesley, Tavistock, Woodstock and New Hamburg),” he said. “Can we upset (one) in the playoffs? I think it’s a possibility.”