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Experience and talent fuel high-powered Red Devils

By Brock Ormond [4]

BELLEVILLE – The old saying in sports is: “Offence gets the glory, but defence wins championships.”

The Minor Midget Quinte Red Devils [5] have proven that they are strong on both ends of the spectrum this season.

The team is led behind the bench by former Belleville Bulls [6] defenceman and Toronto Maple Leafs [7] draft pick Steve Bancroft [8]. The Red Devils lead the Eastern AAA Hockey League’s East division [9] with a record of 17 wins, four losses and three ties.

Despite the positive start, Bancroft says there is always room for improvement, especially when a rival team is competing near the top of the division as well. The Red Devils’ top rival is the Whitby Wildcats [10], currently five games behind.

Minor Midget AAA Quinte Red Devils Head Coach Steve Bancroft back in his junior hockey days with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL. Photo courtesy of The Trading Card Database.

Minor Midget AAA Quinte Red Devils head coach Steve Bancroft back in his junior hockey days with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. Photo courtesy of The Trading Card Database

“We always tell them that no matter how good we play, there is always room to do something better,” Bancroft said. “We’re happy with where we are, though. Obviously Whitby has played less games, so they’ll catch up. We’re always in a dogfight with them for first place, so at least we put ourselves in a position to be there at the end.”

The Red Devils lead the division in goals by a wide margin, scoring 123 up to this point in the season. Five out of the top 10 spots in league scoring are occupied by Red Devils players.

“Our goals come from the way we play,” Bancroft said. “We expect quick puck movement and we’re very tenacious on the forecheck.”

It’s important to keep a close eye on the defensive zone as well, he said.

“I keep saying that defence wins hockey games, so we’ll always work on our defensive coverage. We score lots of goals, but once you get into playoffs, you’re not going to score five or six a game – you’re going to score two or three. So you’d better make sure you’re allowing less than that.”

The Red Devils’ potent offence is led by forwards Michael Andrews [11] (41 points), Emmett Pierce [12] (40 points) and captain Daniel Panetta [13] (36 points), among others.

Pierce says it has been a good experience playing for Bancroft: “We just learn that we can’t take a day off. And he pushes us really hard. I guess that’s just what you’ve got to have if you want to get anywhere with hockey. He’s also a pretty smart guy and he teaches us a lot of certain things that will help our game.”

Defenceman Cameron Supryka [14], son of former Belleville Bulls and current Kingston Frontenacs assistant coach Jason Supryka [15] and brother to former Wellington Duke [16] Josh Supryka [17], echoes his teammate’s statements.

Bancroft has “been through it all, so he knows what it takes to get to the next level,” Supryka said. “He’s played hockey for so long. He knows all these tips and tricks, and he’s been great to have as a coach overall.”

All players are eligible for the 2017 OHL Priority Selection Draft [18], which will be held in April. Bancroft admits that the draft is in the back of everybody’s minds, but says they can’t afford to forget about their team responsibilities.

“Our motto is ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ So once in a while we’ll bring out that saying, and it’s a reminder to them that it doesn’t matter how good you are – if you don’t work hard, you won’t have success.”