It was quite the interesting weekend in La Ronge, I'm sorry I wasn't feeding constant blog updates for those of you looking for them. I was at the rink for most of the sessions this weekend, but for some personal stuff, that was the extent of what I would be doing.
So, the weekend. It was a different experience for me when it comes to training camp. Last year I was in Calgary where training camp was over 100 players. Lots of guys to cut and lots to choose from, but that doesn't really guarantee success as the Canucks had a pretty rough season. The Wolves had around 40 players at camp, many of them prospects for the Coaches to get a look at before they head back to their Midget AAA/AA programs.
The Ice Wolves roster is close to being set, well at least as set as a Junior-A roster is this time of year. Coach Beatty intends to have 24 skaters on the roster by tonight's game and the real tooth and nail battle for spots will get going as the Wolves take on Gavin Holcomb's Melfort Mustangs.
First, here are the players that made it through camp and into the intra-squad game. A couple of notable omissions are Aaron Enns as he was experiencing some soreness in his elbow (no point in aggravating anything before the season gets going). David Greyeyes was also absent as he was getting his separated shoulder checked out to see where he is in recovery. Greyeyes is expected in La Ronge this week some time I've heard. This is the direct roster from the team and I know there are a couple of typos. Remember, it's preseason for everyone.
So let's break it down, shall we?
Yeah, it's a little weird to start with the defence rather than the forwards, but I start here because there were a lot of them. Seeing as it's a smaller camp, spots up front needed to be filled so we actually saw a few defencemen moving up. It doesn't specify those at camp as blue-liners, but the first five on each roster were all defenders along with Robin Yew and Ryan Suchorab. Team White had a bunch of defencemen playing forward, so here they are.
Franklin Cook ('93)
Brett Hope ('93)
Scott Helmkay ('93)
What you should read into that is there is quite the battle going on for spots on the back end and the coaching staff wants to get an extra look at some of the guys. This is made even more interesting by some of the young guys stepping up like Morgan Greve. He scored a goal, albeit kind of a weird one, in the intrasquad game and looked very confident and didn't wasn't out of place aside from his lack of size. One thing I wouldn't be surprised to see is Franklin Cook moving up to a role on forward. I think it would give him a little more freedom to just race around the rink like a wrecking ball, which he did very effectively yesterday. Helmkay played forward last year in Midget AA, I'm not sure if he split time or what the deal was, but it will be interesting to see if the ship has sailed on him playing defence and will be up front.
On the guys actually playing on the blue line, Matt Weisensel ('91) comes as advertised. Solid defensive defenceman who's smart with the puck and makes pretty good decisions. Didn't see him use his body too much, so it will be interesting to see if that aspect picks up as the intensity increases in game.
Drew Morin ('94) and Hunter Conboy ('93) for Team White were mirrored by Team Black's Bradley Boehr ('95) and Chris Mike ('95) as they had up and down games. At times looking very solid and at others, seeming unsure. The difference is Boehr and Chris are younger than the others.
Alex Vandenameele ('92) and Louis-Joseph Sawyer ('93) looked good as a pairing. They were already displaying some very good communication and that pairing may already be set. Vandenameele's progression looks to have continued and will likely be occupying a spot in the top four, maybe top pairing. Sawyer was in on a goal, either he got it or it was tipped in the scramble in front and looks to have pretty good hockey sense as an 18-year old.
Ben Bula ('91) looked decent as well. He was apparently restricted from dropping the gloves yesterday, but not from throwing a few stiff hip-checks along the boards. It will be interesting to see how Bula's utilized this season and where he'll fit into the overall defensive picture.
Tyson Hudon opened some eyes, well, pretty much everyone's eyes this weekend. He's listed as a 20-year old on that roster, but apparently he's a 1994 born player. Good size, speed and hands and if he fills his frame in the next couple of years he could be a very tough opponent for forwards to deal with. Apparently he could be on his way to Junior-B this season if he doesn't stick with the Ice Wolves.
Our final defenders are Ryan Suchorab ('94) and Robin Yew ('95). I didn't catch too much of Suchorab over the weekend, but he does feature a pretty hefty shot from the line. Yew is the one player I can say with a lot of certainty who will be playing in tonight's exhibition game (Coach Beatty said so, though he's changed his mind in the past). He played with Morgan Greve and as a pairing they looked very good. Sure of themselves with pretty good instincts.
The unknown in this defensive picture is David Greyeyes and where he'll fit in and who he'll bump when he gets into the lineup. Look for the Wolves to carry extra defencemen until the roster cut down and for a couple to maybe make that jump to forward.
Since I plan on getting more in depth on the returning forwards (see Great Expectations post) I won't spend too much time on them. Nathan Boyer had a great camp, scoring four in Sunday's scrimmage then tearing up the Intrasquad Game with another three. He looks to be in fine form headed into the season. Graham Smerek looks ready to take on more of an offensive role. His speed is definitely his biggest asset, but his hands are starting to catch up to his wheels, and that is a scary thought. Skyler Hladun looks like he'll be a handful for defenders as a power forward. Goalies of the SJHL will be very familiar with his name and number. Aaron Enns seems very driven and was going at it full tilt this weekend, hopefully this thing with his arm isn't too serious and it sounds like it isn't.
The new acquisitions from Lloydminster look pretty solid. Neither have great size, but they're not afraid to get to the dirty areas. Brodie Eisbrenner ('92) has pretty good speed through the neutral zone and is a very solid puck carrier. Brett McNevin ('92) doesn't quite have the same speed as Eisbrenner, but seems a little quicker in-zone. They play quite well together and it wouldn't surprise me to see the former Calgary Northstars playing on the same line.
Jordan Ethier ('91), like Matt Weisensel, comes as advertised. Plenty of skill, but not afraid to initiate contact. He's very good at protecting the puck as he drives for an opening. He'll likely be one of the major factors in the Wolves offence this season and that's not a bad thing at all.
Plenty of players had strong showings as well, like Tom Kempinsky ('93), Johney Cormier ('92) and Tyson Valette ('93), but in the interest of this post not being a novel I won't get in to a ton of detail. I would expect all three to have a very solid shot with at least two of the three a lock to make the team.
One of the intriguing players to watch in tonight's exhibition game will be Tyler Suciu. The roster says '91, but there was some disagreement on how old he actually is and I haven't had that clarified yet. Suciu is extremely fast, possibly faster than Graham Smerek, and he has that all important second gear to beat guys with. He's got decent length, but is pretty slight. The guy is a very strong offensive talent. After all this, you wouldn't expect him to be on the bubble, but he is. For Suciu, tonight's pre-season matchup will be key to moving on with the Wolves and the question is about intensity and physicality. Suciu lacks much of a physical game, and it's a glaring flaw. It's fine to not be an overly physical player, but it really shows in his game. In the third period, I saw some flashes of intensity and a couple hits so that bodes well, but he'll have to bring it consistently tonight if he is going to make the team.
I was talking about young defencemen stepping up to cause some grief for older players, that held true up front as well. Especially with Brendan Boyd. He had a very good camp and an even better Intrasquad Game with two goals and was the first player mentioned when Bob Beatty responded to my question about surprising players.
The forward ranks seem to be shaping up nicely, but are still very much in flux. Hopefully tonight will give us some more clues as to what the new edition of the Ice Wolves will look like.
As for players we're keeping track of away from Wolves camp. Rhyse Dieno ('93) is killin' it at Medicine Hat Tigers Camp. He's got three goals and an assist in two games for the Tigers. If he keeps this up, he'll be staying in the Hat methinks. As for Jared Iron ('94), he made it through Kootenay Ice Training Camp and on to the WHL Champs 32-man exhibition roster. The Ice play their first preseason game against Everett on Friday in a tournament with the other American teams. Good to see them both succeeding at the higher level, though their offensive talents will be missed in La Ronge should they stick.
Fine, that is all.
Oh all right, Myles Hovdebo ('92) looks good as he gets ready for his first season as a bona fide SJHL Starter. He'll likely share plenty of starts with Alex Rajotte ('91). The former Baie-Comeau Drakkar back-up looks colourful in his red and yellow pads (I'm told he has new ones on the way). His personality seems likewise as he was having a good time on the ice. Oh ya, and he stops the puck pretty darn well. For video evidence, check out this little snippet from about the 1:20 mark.
Jared Lafond ('94) and Reno Merriman ('93) rounded out the goalie roster. Both performed quite well over the weekend, though more experience will definitely go a long way. Merriman was outstanding in the third period of the Intrasquad for Team White as they tried to make a comeback. He nearly dealt a perfect period until he was beaten with just over a minute left in the frame. Team White Coach, Roger Schooley, took some of the blame as he felt he called on Merriman to prepare to race to the bench too early and broke his focus.
All in all, the goaltending situation in La Ronge looks like it's good to go for the next while.
I may post my post-camp interview with Bob Beatty so you can get the full story from his point of view on the camp, as well as some pictures and video from the weekend this afternoon.
Tonight's game will not be webcast. Curtis "The Burbot" Skalicky is still waiting on some new pieces and parts for our cast so we're hoping to be ready for the home opener against Nipawin. The league also switched webcast providers over the summer so I'm still garnering details, but it's the same service the WHL uses for its webcasting. The first MBC Radio Broadcast will be September 17th, the Wolves first road game.
Tickets for tonight's game are $10 dollars for adults, $5 dollars for 17 and under and seniors.
Finally, my next post in the "Great Expectations" series will come later in the week, likely Wednesday or Thursday.
Just over a week until the regular season. Are you psyched yet?