I'm back from an all too short vacation which had me in Banff, at a WWE event, a baseball game and a street hockey game in front of my parents house.  All and all, a good 10ish days off.  Now I'm ready to go for the 2011-2012 season and it's time for a monstrous blog post to start off on a good note.  

It's a little different for me this time around.  Last season around this time, I was at Calgary Canucks training camp preparing to enter into a year of volunteering on the media side of things with the team.  When I got the call to come to La Ronge, I hustled, but still arrived just in time for the first game of the Regular Season.  So this is my first go around of an SJHL training camp and Pre-Season.

A quick note about the Wolves' pre-season; the schedule has been cut down to two games against Melfort, one in La Ronge on September 6th and the other on the following Sunday in Melfort.  The Wolves were going to take part in a tournament type deal in North Battleford, but some parts of it didn't line up for La Ronge.  Would have been nice, but sometimes that's the way she goes.
Now back to the matters at hand.  I got back to La Ronge just in time to hit up the rink on my last two days of vacation (I know, I'm awesome like that).  The Ice Wolves held their Northern Prospects Identification Camp and due to a lack of knowledge of the roster of attendee's... I can't say I was too successful at identifying most of the prospects.  However, it was good to see some of the returnee's getting out on the ice along with the guys at the camp.

Franklin Cook (F/D - Beardy's Blackhawks) is still considered a prospect, though he'll likely earn a roster spot this season.  He looked very solid (both literally and figuratively) when on the ice.  He's a huskier guy, and it always surprises me how quickly he can move.  I suspect we'll see plenty of solid hits from Cook this season.

The Wolves are carrying over a bunch of the players from the prospects camp to their Main Camp (opening Friday night @7:30).  Depending on how many skaters attend the Main Camp some of the younger guys may be split off into more of a skills workshop setting.

Here's a quick video of some of the 3-on-3 scrimmage action on Saturday.
Remember, you can check out my new Youtube Channel here for more videos now and through the season.


Let's talk about the returnees or lack there of.  Most of the skaters returning for the 2011-12 season are in town now, in fact at the time of writing this, they may all be here.

Forwards
Aaron Enns ('91)
Graham Smerek ('92)
Nathan Boyer ('92)
Skyler Hladun ('92)
*Rhyse Dieno ('93)

Defence
Ben Bula ('91)
Alex Vandenameele ('92)

Goalie
Myles Hovdebo ('92)

*Dieno is at Medicine Hat Tigers Training Camp so we will wait and see whether he sticks on in the WHL or returns to the SJHL.

Yes, this is a much different list than fans in La Ronge hoped for at the culmination of last season.  Lacking names include:

Forwards
Phil Cliché 
Justin Ducharme
Marc-Andre Carre (yes we knew earlier about Carre, but it still hurts)

Defence
Byron Sorenson
Michael Verret
Steven Cook (Trade)

That is a pretty debilitating loss for the club, especially since a couple of those names didn't make their decision until late in the off-season, making it tough to fill their spots.  However, let us not worry about the past.  I got a chance to speak with Bob Beatty in depth this weekend a couple chats during Zamboni breaks and an interview at the end of the weekend.  While he acknowledges the loss of the players above is pretty tough for the team, he is excited for some of the talent incoming.

Unfortunately, Bob is still playing it close to the chest when it comes to some of the forwards he recruited this summer so I'm still in the dark on who's coming in, aside from a couple rumours I've heard.

A forward of note is definitely Jared Iron ('94 - Beardy's Blackhawks).  He had a very good season with Beardy's last year, and played at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.  He was third in the SMAAAHL in goals last season (28) and finished with 48 points on the season.  Of course the problem with excellent players at a young age is they could end up in the WHL.  This is exactly the case with Jared as he will get a long look with the Kootenay Ice when they open camp up on Wednesday.

When it comes to defence, I already mentioned Franklin Cook.  He played on the blue line in a couple of playoff games for La Ronge against Flin Flon and was an immediate fan favourite.  He can also play forward and could be one of those valuable utility players for the Wolves.  

Also on his way in is Brett Hope ('93 - Tisdale Trojans).  He scored nine goals from with the Trojans last season and is a very large body, something the Wolves lacked last season until the arrival of Steven Cook.  Hope can be a replacement and more for Cook on the back-end.  He got in a game of action for the Wolves in the playoffs against Melfort and spent much of the post-season in La Ronge with the team during home stands. 

The Wolves are also taking a chance on David Greyeyes ('91).  I've been told he was a very strong player in Midget AAA, but ran into some injury trouble in recent years.  He's healthy now and is committed to playing with the Wolves this season.  If he can bring the play like he did in his younger years, the Wolves could have a big time sleeper addition, but, he hasn't played in a while so it will definitely be a wait and see.

Another addition... well, more of a swap really, is Matt Weisensel.  The 20-year old came to La Ronge in a deal that sent Steven Cook to the North Bay Trappers.  He was the captain of his squad last season and instead of me prattling on about a player I really don't know, enjoy this most excellent video.
Funny story about Weisensel.  My brother, Andrew, was actually the one that let me know about the trade while I was in Calgary.  Turns out Andrew met Matt through a mutual friend and they kept in touch while Weisensel was out east.  There's your "it's a small world" story for the week.

In goal, Coach Beatty is pretty pleased with his set up.  Myles Hovdebo was stellar last season for the Ice Wolves.  He didn't see the stiffest competition, but performed exceedingly well when called upon in to relieve Adam Bartko in games one and two of the Anavet Cup.  If Hovdebo is the real deal, the Wolves will be set.  Just to be sure though, Beatty acquired goaltender Alex Rajotte (Baie-Comeau - QMJHL).  The 20-year old played in ten contests for the Drakkar posting a tough 1-7-2 record and a GAA of 3.93 and an 0.860 save percentage.  It's fairly clear why he won't be in the Q this season as an over-age player, it remains to be seen how he fairs against SJHL shooters not to mention not being in the scoring bonanza that is the Quebec Major Junior League.

In conclusion, where does that leave the Wolves?  In a considerably less favourable position than they were at the end of the season, but certainly not without promise.  Offence will be a huge deal for La Ronge, and fans will likely be a little disappointed with that especially after the ridiculousness that was last season scoring wise.  A return to the lunch-bucket mantra is almost completely assured, but it was a lunch-bucket team that won the 2010 SJHL Championship.  Who knows?  Maybe Ben Bula has a breakout season and scores 50 goals?  (Said that to Bob, he didn't think it was likely to say the least.)

Anyway, to close things out, here's an updated depth chart.

Forwards
Aaron Enns ('91)
*Rhyse Dieno ('93)
*Jared Iron ('94)
Graham Smerek ('92)
Nathan Boyer ('92)
Skyler Hladun ('92)
Franklin Cook ('93)

Defence
Matt Weisensel ('91)
Alex Vandenameele ('92)
Ben Bula ('91)
Brett Hope ('93)
David Greyeyes ('91)
Franklin Cook ('93) (Not sure where he'll fit in)

Goalie
Myles Hovdebo ('92)
Alex Rajotte ('91)

That leaves three or four spots on defence with still two lines to fill on forward following the best possible line for the Ice Wolves.  If Dieno and Iron stick (hopefully for them, they do), then the Wolves have some serious additions to make up front.  It definitely won't be like last season where the Ice Wolves boasted some outstanding depth.

I'll have more from camp when I see who's in attendance and we get our fist look at the new additions and players hoping to make the team.

Finally, for the WWE fans out there, here's a few minutes of the dark match that went at the conclusion of Smackdown! in Calgary on August 23rd.  This match essentially didn't happen as it wasn't on the broadcast, but it was still a lot of fun to watch Christian and Randy Orton do their thing.  I recorded until my phone ran out of batteries.

Enjoy!

-D
One of these days I'll figure out how to upload the high quality version.

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