It's practice number two tonight in the Cochrane Generals Jr. 'B' team's preseason selection camp. With 35 prospects lacing up, the coaching staff will be facing some tough choices.
Head coach Travis McMillan says groundwork that started with a summer camp and six months of recruitment is paying off for the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) team and is having the trickle-down effect they were seeking.
"The rookies are looking pretty good," says McMillan. "There's some talent and fresh faces out there, so we're looking forward to the next couple of weeks."
He also anticipates even more players will step forward after the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) teams have completed their cuts.
Aiding the selection process is a series of four exhibition games. This weekend they play a home-and-home exhibition series against the Mountainview Colts. Given the close matchups between these two teams in recent years, it’s a good way to kick tires.
"There's a lot of players to pick and choose from and obviously having two games against the same team back-to-back, you can fill roster spots different each night, which is a good thing."
"We had a couple of good battles with the Colts last year. I really did admire the grittiness of their team last season so if they bring the same mentality into this exhibition game that they had last season it will be a good test for our rookies."
Clearly, the Gens will have a new look this season with a number of players aging out or moving on.
The Gens are losing four veterans in d-men captain Austin Keller and Will Gretton as well as perennial scorers Talus Hume and Slater Ransom They also have lost previously-named captain Colton Wong, who has accepted a job in the oil patch as a firefighter in Northern Alberta, as well as the high-scoring Jarod Domingo.
The goaltending tandem of Knute Loe and Eric Garber are also both in Ontario for tryouts.
Still, McMillan likes the opportunity junior hockey offers players to move forward in their careers or to pursue academic studies, as in the case of Gretton, who has recently made the cut for the SAIT Trojans.
"One of my main goals as a junior 'B' hockey coach is to promote our players past playing at this level. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to doing that near the end of the season this year moreso than last year."
He also regrets the loss of Wong but also knows being a firefighter is a career he has been pursuing. He says he'll have a spot for Wong as an overage player should he be able to return late in the season.
"I would do that in a heartbeat, for sure."
The Gens play in Olds on Saturday, Sept. 8 and return to Cochrane on Sunday, Sept. 9. Game time is 4:30 p.m. at the Gens’ new home at the Cochrane Arena, 609 4 Ave. N.
They host the Airdrie Techmation Thunder on Saturday, Sept. 15 for their final home game of the preseason.
They open the regular season at home on Sept. 29 against the Mountainview Colts.
Billeting May Be Required
While McMillan says the Gens build the team around graduating Cochrane minor hockey players, they also get interested from out-of-town players and may need places for them to billet during the tryout period.
In particular, players cut from AJHL teams are eager to tryout here and one such goaltender is already in camp from Fort McMurray.
"This speaks volumes about Cochrane and to our organization," says McMillan.
Those who are interested in providing billets or seek more information can contact McMillan at 403-970-7147 or email [email protected].