Steven Leonard signs, Hat Tricks shuffle roster

by Jim Cerny, Hat Tricks Insider

Billy McCreary is having himself a busy week, constantly changing hats in his dual roles with the Danbury Hat Tricks.

As coach, McCreary is running training camp and preparing the team for opening night Friday at home against the Delaware Thunder. And when the coaching hat comes off, his general manager’s hat goes on as McCreary gets the roster in shape.

To that end, the Hat Trick made a flurry of moves this week. Notably, they raised the skill level at the forward position, signing Steven Leonard and Marquis Grant-Mentis on Tuesday.

Hat Tricks fans may remember Leonard. He and twin brother Sean, a defenseman, signed to play with the Hat Tricks in 2020-21. However, that opportunity didn’t come to pass because the Hat Tricks opted out of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But he’s back in Hat City and could make a major impact. The 27-year-old played 22 games in the ECHL with Norfolk and 23 games with Knoxville in the SPHL last season. In 2020-21, Leonard had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 20 FPHL games with Port Huron and Elmira.

“We are really fortunate to be able to add Steven to our roster,” McCreary said.

His skill and experience will be invaluable for a young Hat Tricks team, which lost key veterans Corey Anderson, Steve and Tom Mele, Phil Bronner, Aaron Atwell and Steve Brown in the offseason.

That Leonard was a college teammate of Hat Tricks captain Jonny Ruiz at UMASS-Dartmouth is nothing but a plus, as well.

Grant-Mentis is a skilled forward who can “fly all over the ice,” McCreary said. As a rookie with Columbus in the FPHL last season, the 24-year-old had 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 23 games.

The Hat Tricks also signed forward Olle Vennstrom, a 30-year-old from Sweden, who played one game with Elmira in the FPHL last weekend. He had 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 20 games in Norway last season and scored a career-high 27 goals in 25 games in Sweden during the 2019-20 season.

Add those three to a group led by Ruiz, Gordy Bonnel, Dustin Jesseau, Tobias Odjick and Evan Lugo, and Danbury has something cooking up front this season.

The back end was not ignored this week either. Johnny Macdonald, who excelled as a rookie with the Hat Tricks last season, was released by Huntsville in the SPHL and will rejoin Danbury. Macdonald, 22, had 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 43 games last season.

On Thursday the Hat Tricks traded defenseman Dzmitry Daniliuk to Elmira for future considerations. And earlier in the week they released several players from training camp tryouts including Justin Brown, Shamus Lombard and Temirlin Skindirov.

So, the opening night roster is just about set. Or is it? McCreary is keeping open the possibility that moves still could be made.

“We’ll see,” he said. “There’s still time.”