New head coach says hard work key for Nats

by Joseph Coppolino - EAP
New head coach says hard work key for Nats
In his first season as a head coach, Justin Pereira wants to see the Rockland Nationals develop a culture of hard work, competitiveness and relentlessness. (Photo : Joseph Coppolino)

Justin Pereira, the Rockland Nationals’ new head coach, said he doesn’t want to look back as the team prepares for its 2023-2024 season, as regular season games start on September 15.

«It’s a windshield mentality,” said Pereira of the new season. “We look forward.”

Pereira said he is bringing in a new system for the Nats, who missed the playoffs by just a few points last season and landed near the bottom of the table despite a confident start to the season.

Pereira joined the Nats in May from the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit where he worked as an assistant coach. Now a head coach, he is preaching a similar message to what got the Spirit through to the second round of the playoffs last season. He wants to see a team that is possession-based, high-paced and highly competitive.

“It’s about being relentless,” said Pereira. “Being relentless in everything you do. In your 50-50 battles, in how you’re hunting down pucks. It’s second and third efforts in battles.”

For the season ahead, Pereira said the club is developing a culture around the team that extends to the surrounding community as well.

“At the end of the day we want a team culture that is all about caring,” he said. “Caring for each other and caring about how we represent the community.”

With his eyes set on a higher position in the standings for the upcoming season, Pereira is taking it one day at time and ensuring his team is growing and getting better every week.

“That’s all I care about,” he said. “If you do that, you give yourself a good opportunity to make the dance.”

Nats general manager Carl Robillard, who joined took on the role and head coach position in December 2022, said the boys have already taken to Pereira, signaling they feel lucky to have someone as high caliber as the former OHL coach.

“He dedicated his life to coaching. This is what he wants to do and it shows,” said Robillard.

The general manager’s hopes are also high for the upcoming season. With a new roster of players, five staying from last year, and a new coaching staff, Robillard said all the pieces are in place.

“All that’s left to do is get these guys to gel.”

Slow start to the pre-season

In their first exhibition game against the Nepean Raiders the Nats took a 2-1 loss in overtime at home, a team they defeated three of their five meetings last season. The Nats played the Raiders again in Nepean on Wednesday, after the Vision went to print.

According to their new coach, despite the pre-season jitters, the players are taking well to the message and developing the skills Pereira wants to see them carry throughout the regular season.

“We’ve definitely seen those habits in a lot of the players,” said Pereira. “We obviously want to continue like that, continue with the consistency of our message and hopefully that translates into our performance.”

Regardless, Pereira and Robillard said Rocklanders can rest assured that hockey in the city will undoubtedly be entertaining this year.

“It’s going to be an exciting team to come watch every single night,” said Pereira. “It’s going to be a team that’s going to give 101 per cent effort. It’s going to be a fun product on the ice and a chance for these young men to showcase their skills.”

The Nats’ regular season games begin September 15 at home against the Pembroke Lumber Kings, last season’s overall last-place team in the CCHL with a record of 10-40-2-3. The Nats, who finished the 2022-2023 season at 20-23-4-8, defeated the Lumber Kings in all four of their games last year.

Pre-season games against Hawkesbury are scheduled for September 8 and 10, away and at home, respectively. Their final pre-season matchup is against the Ottawa Junior Senators, the reigning two-time CCHL Bogart Cup champions, in Orléans on September 13.

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