Nats coach reflects on year that was

Anil Jhalli
Nats coach reflects on year that was
(Photo : Photo: Patrick Bergeron)

In his first full season as head coach of the Rockland Nationals, Justin Pereira guided the team back to postseason play.  

And while the team’s quest for a Bogart Cup ended abruptly last weekend – Rockland lost its second-round playoff series against the Navan Grads in five games – the Nats bench boss commends his players for their solid effort against “a heck of a team.”  

“We ran into a hot goaltender,” said Pereira of Grads goalie Jaedon Nelson, who was named the league’s top goaltender. “He is the best goalie in the league for a reason.” 

And while it wasn’t the result the team wanted, Pereira said the Nats 2023-2024 season certainly is something to build on with what the team was able to accomplish.  

The Nats made their way into the postseason for the first time in four years, and even made it past the first round after getting by the Renfrew Wolves in six games.  

“This playoff run was a learning experience for this team,” said Pereira, who also coached various AAA organizations in the Greater Toronto Area where he captured an OMHA Championship and an OHF Bronze. “We were starved for the playoffs, and we got there. We are still a ways away from getting to where we need to be, but I am confident we can get there.” 

Players have credited Pereira and his staff for helping change the culture of the team, with a system that the players have bought into.  

Pereira is thankful for the way his players have reacted to what he and his staff are trying to bring to the Nats on and off the ice, with the hope of bringing a winning culture to Rockland.  

“It really is an honour coaching these young men,” said Pereira. “We wanted to come here and enhance the culture and set a new standard, and the credit goes to these players for how they responded.” 

With residents itching for playoff hockey, Pereira said it was really special to see the way people responded to the Nats season.  

Next season already on their minds 

That type of energy keeps him and the staff fueled for next season.  

“The atmosphere inside our rink, it was just amazing,” he added. “We had fans even come out and see us on the road. The community really rallied around the program, and we are happy to be part of that feeling.” 

Pereira said a coach’s job is never over. He is already looking to next season and is thrilled with the new crop of talent ready to become the latest additions to the Rockland Nationals’ franchise through the CCHL draft held earlier this month.  

The key for the Nats was selecting players that fit into their system of pace and possession hockey.  

The organization wanted defenseman, and selected Brody Dunbar with their first-round pick. They also wanted some big, physical players who brought a competitive edge to their game and selected forward Carter Downs with their second-round pick. The team also wanted to add a goaltender, and took Jackson Howell in the third round.  

“We wanted some guys who fit certain elements of our game,” he said. “We wanted players that suit our identity.”  

And while there are players who have moved on from the program, including defenseman of the year and captain Xavier Laurent, Pereira said that the players returning next year certainly have the capability to step into leadership roles and help lead the Nationals to the next level.  

“We have the talent and experience to win in the playoffs,” said the Nationals head coach. “As a coach, I am always looking to next year. I am watching tape to see how can we get better, what areas do we need to work on. There is no down time, we want to help this program grow.” 

Partager cet article