By Lanny Stewart
A six-game preseason schedule, which included roster finalization, is now in the rear-view mirror for the Oil Caps as the junior A club is now currently preparing for the regular season, which is slated to begin this weekend.
The club finished the exhibition portion of their schedule with a .500 record (3-3), highlighted by two ‘rookie games’ which saw many of the club’s listed players partake in the team’s first two preseason contests on Sept. 4 in Portage (7-2 loss) and Sept. 5 in Ochapowace, Sask. (7-1 win). There were also notable performances from a variety of Oil Caps players during the preseason, including the likes of veterans Kolten Kanaski and Ben Dalke, along with rookie Brett Paddock as the threesome finished in a tie for the team lead in scoring.
“I really thought our young guys, starting with our 15-year-olds in our rookie games, did very well,” said Jamie Hodson, director of business and hockey operations. “Obviously leading into exhibition thereafter, our veteran guys, the few guys we do have returning, really took the bull by the horns, showing our young guys what it takes on and off the ice to be a junior A hockey player. That’s been very satisfying.”
Troy Leslie, head coach and GM of the Oil Caps, believes the club continued to improve as the month wore on, adding that the team’s final preseason tilt – a 5-2 win over the Swan Valley Stampeders on Sept. 15 in Virden – was their best overall performance of the exhibition season.
“I thought it was our best 60-minute effort as a team and that’s what you want rolling into the regular season,” he said.
“I think our exhibition season went as expected,” said Oil Caps assistant coach Tyson Ramsey. “With a different lineup in every night, we don’t concern ourselves with results in terms of the score, but we look for progress. I think as a group, we got better everyday and we finished the exhibition season with what we thought was our best effort in our last game against Swan Valley.”
Continuing to create a winning culture
Dalke, mentioned earlier, is one of the returnees who will be counted on for leadership – and by the looks of it, he’s ready for the challenge. The 20-year-old forward, who was named captain of the club early Friday, played a key role in the club’s run to the championship final a season ago.
“It’s very important as a veteran to set an example and keep a winning mentality alive. I’ve learned here that the veteran group has a contagious effect on the team and that they help create a certain culture around the room and on the ice. It’s up to the returning guys now to stay motivated and make sure the team culture is set on positivity, motivation and determination to have success and keep a winning culture here in Virden for years to come.”
Dalke, along with Kanaski, join the likes of forwards Jack Einarson, Hunter Cloutier, Josh Belcher, Brayden Pawluk, blueliners Tristen Cross and Jayden Wojciechowski and goaltender Dalton Dosch as returning players this season.
Youth will be served
Tanner Andrew is among the handful of rookies who will don the Oil Caps sweater this season. The Virden product, an auto-protect ahead of the 2015 MJHL Bantam Draft, spent time with the club last season, but was eventually reassigned to the Southwest Cougars AAA midget club last December. He returned to the team later in the year and says he’s ready to take the next step in his development as a full-time Oil Cap this season.
“Being around the team last year, it really prepared me for what’s to come and how you need to play to be successful in this league,” he said.
“I’m extremely excited to play for Virden this year. It’s been a dream of mine to play for the Caps ever since the team came to town. Getting to play in front of my hometown every night is going to be very exciting.”
Andrew joins Dylan Halliday, Tristan Thompson and Brett Paddock as rookies on the squad.
Potter likes what he sees from the netminders
Ryan Potter, Oil Caps goaltending coach, says Dalton Dosch, the club’s No. 1 netminder this season, came into camp in great shape.
“He’s worked hard on developing good habits and used his time in exhibition play to get ready for the regular season.”
Potter says Riley Wallace, a 2015 auto-protect who could see time between the pipes as well, started camp a little slower than he would have liked, but kept working hard and did improve each time out.
“He looked really solid in his last two preseason appearances.”
Meanwhile Tyler Thompson, another goaltender battling for playing time, got into camp late and was a little behind, but similar to Wallace, did improve and looked really solid in his last preseason game.
“He’s a big-bodied goaltender that is successful when he’s square to shooters,” Potter added.
Sticking to the process
Oil Caps management has a plan and they’re not deviating from it.
“As an organization, we’re thrilled on how things are going and we’re really sticking to the process of having a young, developing team,” Hodson said. “Ultimately our goal every year is to compete for a championship and to develop good, young hockey players both on and off the ice. Our goals don’t change no matter what the average age is of our hockey team.”
Hodson praised the coaching staff and organization overall, including the fans and believes there’s a lot of excitement for this year’s club.
“You hear it around the rink. A lot of new faces also means a lot of new excitement. We’re going to be a blue-collar hard-working team with a lot of skill that will play a fast tempo style. We’re going to be fun to watch.”
Regular season begins on Saturday; home opener on Sunday
The Oil Caps will begin the 2018-2019 regular season with a home-and-home set against the Dauphin Kings, beginning on Saturday night in Dauphin. The club returns to Tundra Oil and Gas Place on Sunday night for the club’s home opener versus the Kings.
“We’re looking to have a strong start,” Leslie said. “We’re using this week as a stepping stone for our preparation for Games 1 and 2 of the season and the first few weeks of the schedule here. There’s going to be some growing pains but we’re also excited about the skill level of our guys and feel like we’re going to be able to play the kind of game that we want and that’s a fast game and really an up-tempo game. We’re looking forward to that for sure.”
Roster now finalized
The Oil Caps had several promising young players who were vying for spots on the roster this year. Here’s a look at those who were with the club throughout camp and exhibition games but will not be with the team to begin the season.
Bryden Kiesman – Forward – Winnipeg Bruins midget AAA (Listed)
Riley Zimmerman – Forward – Winnipeg Wild midget AAA (Drafted in 2017, fifth round, 49thoverall)
Patrick Comeau – Defence – Winnipeg Bruins midget AAA (Drafted in 2016, second round, 19thoverall)
Jackson Orr – Defence – Brandon Wheat Kings midget AAA (Listed)
Colin Cook – Forward – Brandon Wheat Kings midget AAA (Drafted in 2016, fourth round, 35thoverall)
Jake Poole – Forward – Yellowhead Chiefs midget AAA (Acquired via trade from Wayway, first overall selection in 2017 draft)
Blake Jacques – Forward – Rink Hockey Academy Prep (Drafted in 2016, sixth round, 63rdoverall)
Bray Rookes – Defence – Yellowhead Chiefs midget AAA (Drafted in 2017, fifth overall)
Hodson says all the players listed above will likely be called up this season as APs when needed.
“For a variety of reasons, the players are back with their club teams with AAA midget and RHA,” Hodson said. “They’re going to play a lot of minutes with their respective teams and we’re excited for their development this year.”