By Dale Cory
If their goal was to get people off the golf course, and into the arena, then the weather certainly co-operated for the Ponoka Stampeders last weekend.
When the 52 hopefuls arrived at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex early Saturday morning to begin 2010-2011 junior B training camp, they were greeted with a temperature barely above freezing.
In other words… perfect hockey weather.
Over the two-day camp, Randy Rook, general manager and head coach kept his recruits so busy they barely had time to notice the turn in the weather signaling the fact hockey season was once again upon us.
“It’s been a very tiring camp, and a gruelling session both days for the boys. Some of them were on the ice for four or five hours straight. But you know what, they’ve handled it pretty good,” says Rook, who pushed his recruits during the off-season to come into camp in shape. “I think overall this camp showed them what it’s going to take to play junior hockey. You kind of saw which players came into camp fit and who didn’t during Sunday’s battle sessions. Separating the men from the boys at this point is huge.”
In fact, by Saturday evening, three players decided they were not worthy, and were no-shows for Sunday’s workouts, dropping the number of players in camp to 49 by Day 2.
After officially registering for tryout camp Saturday at 7:30 a.m., players were put through fitness testing, skill testing, and two full games of scrimmage that had them still inside the arena, and very tired, more than 12 hours after arriving.
“That was a tough first day,” admitted 19-year-old defenceman Kenton Siegle of Sylvan Lake, who was feeling the effects of Rook’s grinding try-out camp by late Sunday afternoon. “But, you just get into the flow of things, you’re working hard, and you just don’t think about the time. And the next thing you know, you’re done.”
Hockey aside, second-year coach Rook put his players through some serious fitness testing that included sprints, push-ups, sit-ups and long jump.
“It feels good for sure. But it was tough. I’ve only skated twice since our last game last year, so it’s hard getting back into it. My legs feel like rubber,” offered forward Gage Rosie. “There was some stuff I’m not used to yet.”
When Rook began his rebuilding process with this struggling franchise last year, he had only 32 players, many young and lacking junior hockey experience, show up for camp. He had many more recruits at this years camp, and those players are now a year older, and a year wiser.
“You’ve got your guys who stand up and protect their teammates, guys who lead by example, who get the guys pumped, and who do those little things that make the difference to benefit the team,” added Siegle, who had two goals and 10 points in 14 games last season.
The benefits of Rook’s off-season recruiting appeared quite evident to Rosie, who scored 11 goals and had 23 points in 26 games last season.
“We’ve got a lot more talent than last year for sure,” insisted Rosie after watching two days of workouts. “We had a few guys who could put the puck in the net last year, but, if we get a couple of the players who are at junior A camps back here, we’ll definitely win more games. And I think we have better leadership.”
There was even a separate on-ice session for goalies, during which the puck stoppers worked on butterfly slides, playing the puck, and mobility covering the crease.
“It looks like we’ll have a pretty good team this year, and maybe win a couple more games than last year,” said goalie hopeful Garret Montour of Hobbema, who won three of the team’s six games last season despite playing in just nine games. “We have a lot of veterans returning, and a lot of new talent.”
Rook cut his roster down to 31 players after Sunday’s bucket cup game. He says 12 camp invitees are still at junior A camps, and four of those have confirmed they will join the Stampeders if they don’t make the grade one level above junior B.
Who’s the fittest in the land… Tyler Poskus had a 16.11-second lap time, which Rook says is close to WHL standards. Poskus also blew away four of the eight targets to win the shooting contest in the skills competition. While one player hit 100 inches in the long jump test, Rook was impressed with Klais Dewaal, who, at just five-foot-seven, or 67 inches tall, jumped 97 inches. Gage Rosie, despite his lack of ice time, showed he’s not totally out-of-shape by performing 87 push-ups in two minutes.
Next up for the Stamps… Rook will have his players back on the ice Wednesday and Thursday of this week from 6 to 9:15 p.m.
Ponoka is scheduled to play its first exhibition game Saturday, Sept. 11 at home against the Rimbey Rock. Face-off is 8 p.m.