Junior A Grizzlys into exhibition play

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The 2018-19 Olds Grizzlys Junior A team continues to form this week during Alberta Junior Hockey League exhibition play.

Five games against both south and north division teams are scheduled between Tuesday, Aug. 28 and Sunday, Sept. 1.

By the time regular season action starts on Sept. 14, associate coach and general manager Garry VanHereweghe says the roster, which sat at 30 at the end of main camp on Sunday will have 22 players on it.

The on-ice goal for the team is loftier than last season’s last-place finish in the south division, he said.

“We want to be a competitive team that is definitely going to make the playoffs and be somewhere in the middle of the pack and get better from that,” VanHereweghe said on the first day of main camp.

Eighty players aged 16 – 20 attended the main camp Aug. 24 – 26.

They included nine American players from locations including Las Vegas, Boston and Colarado. While the majority hailed from Alberta, there were also players from B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Ten returning Grizz veterans attended the camp, aiming to keep their spots on the roster.

“Obviously you always pencil your veterans in, thinking, hoping, that they worked hard over the summer and they’re going to come back and maintain their spot. But I guess when you cut to the chase, the best 22 kids that we can pick out of this camp and our exhibition games are the 22 that play,” said VanHereweghe.

After registration and weigh-in, Grizz hopefuls took part in fitness training sessions and numerous games throughout the weekend before the Top 40 posting on the morning of Aug. 26.

Exit interviews were held with the 40 who didn’t make the cut and the remaining 40 went on to play the Black & Gold intra-squad game later in the day.

Going into yesterday’s first team practice, the roster had been further reduced to 30.

The Grizzlys’ first scheduled exhibition game is on home ice Tuesday, Aug. 28 against the Calgary Mustangs.

The team selection process goes quick, said VanHereweghe.

“We don’t like to drag it on. We’ve got to make some tough decisions and that’s just the way it is,” he said.

“We don’t want to hold kids up. Kids will be looking for other opportunities if it’s not going to work here so we want to get them out as quick as we can. We kind of bite the bullet and make some decisions. You don’t always make the right ones but that’s just part of coaching and managing.”

He said the south division “obviously is going to be a very competitive division this year.”

With the Brooks Bandits hosting and playing in the 2019 RBC Cup — Canada’s National Junior A Championship — “you know they’re going to be very strong,” he said.

And the Okotoks Oilers, also in the south division, were the number 1-ranked team in Canada for 90 per cent of the year last year, he added.

“So obviously we know it’s going to be a tremendously competitive division. And we want to be somewhere in the middle right off the bat and see where we go from there.”

There are eight teams in the south division which also includes the Calgary Canucks, the Calgary Mustangs, Camrose Kodiaks, Canmore Eagles and the Drumheller Dragons.

“There’s a lot of areas we need to get better in and that’s on the ice, in the community, in relation to billets and everything else, just the entire program,” VanHereweghe said.

The community team organization has been successful in relation to marketing and sponsorship, he said, adding the team’s staff and board want to carry that onto the ice and directly into the community.

“We want to be a big part of the community for the entire season. And that means getting the kids into the school system and volunteering. That’s just part of being a hockey team.”

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Lea Smaldon

Lea Smaldon joined Mountain View Publishing as managing editor in 2006.