Players were put through their paces with skill drills, a bit of conditioning, and multiple games as nine returning players joined seven newly acquired and 14 hopefuls for a high-intensity, show-me-what-you-got weekend at the John Bucyk Arena. It was a smaller camp with an emphasis on chemistry right from the get-go, something Head Coach & General Manager Brad Tobin and Associate Coach & Assistant General Manager Gianni Mangone had been eying all summer long.
“We wanted to find players that fit the mould that we were looking for” said Tobin. “We certainly saw it in a few kids that stood out already. Brandon Thomas looked like he had some good chemistry with a few of the guys, and acquisition Tyson Tokarz as well, playing on a line with Luke Chakrabarti.”
Despite the heartbreaking game seven overtime loss to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the second round of last year’s playoffs, it’s safe to say the team exceeded expectations last season and it’s important to Tobin and the coaching staff that they pick up right where they left off, something he expects the veterans to take charge with and lead by example.
“The guys who were first years last year, they all took a step and the look really good coming into training camp this year so we’re hoping that we got a team that can compete for a division title this season.”
That being said, he believes the new players can come in and create some competition throughout the lineup.
“The way that the team’s shaping up we think that the rookies are going to be guys that are pushing the veterans for ice time, which you want for a team that wants to contend.”
There was a sprinkling of local talent throughout the lineup at training camp, some attempting to make the team, other younger players just out for some experience.
“[For] the 2008 & 2007 born players, it was just a good opportunity to see what the level is in the KIJHL and it gives them a little glimpse of what it takes to play at this level so we hope that those guys go back to their [youth] team saying ‘did I get better? Did I improve to put myself in a good spot for next season?’”
A couple of the older players that attended, Utah Oler, and Sages Brunham, managed to make their way onto the exhibition roster.
“There are a couple of locals that we still have on the roster right now that are competing for roster spots. We still have six exhibition games and so time will tell if they’re able to be a part of the Thunder Cats this year.”
Those two have a chance to join current Thunder Cat and local Riley Kostering on the team.
Finally, being ever so cryptic, Tobin said a little without saying a lot about the captaincy for this season, as former captain Clayton Brown has aged out.
“[Gianni and I] have had discussions about it. I don’t know when we’re actually going to announce it, but we have a pretty good idea of who the captain and one of the assistant captains is going to be, and then time will tell when we actually make that announcement.”
The Cats begin their exhibition schedule on Tuesday with a game in Fernie, followed by a trip to Nelson, and then Invermere. They’ll end the preseason with three straight home games:
Tuesday, September 12 vs Fernie
Wednesday, September 13 vs Columbia Valley
Friday, September 15 vs Nelson