By Lanny Stewart
They’re going to be younger, but that doesn’t mean the goal has changed.
Go ahead and check out the Oil Caps social media hashtag campaign for the 2018-2019 season. The hashtag #newteamsamedream makes a lot of sense as Oil Caps brass have high hopes for a club that reached the championship final this past season.
“We recognize what type of team we have, and the expectation is to try and win a championship,” said Jamie Hodson, director of business and hockey operations for the Oil Caps. “Just because we’re going to be a younger team, the goal doesn’t change. We still believe we have the players and the coaching to allow us to do that.”
The journey to achieve that dream began with the club’s annual fall training camp, which included three days of practices, scrimmages and the always popular Garry Cup intrasquad game, named after the team’s dressing room attendant Garry Remple. More than 60 players made their way to Tundra Oil and Gas Place for this year’s Comfort Inn fall camp, which took place Aug. 31 – Sept. 2.
“Our coaches did a good job in getting right to it in the sense that there’s just a lot more scope to teach and for guys to get up to speed in our systems and style of play,” Hodson said.
A rule change in the offseason by the MJHL allows for 15-year-old players to play in exhibition games and the Oil Caps took full advantage of it, showcasing a variety of youngsters, which allowed for staff to get a glimpse into the future.
“Having those practices early in camp and really talking and helping those younger guys was different this year in the sense that they were going to get an opportunity to play and that hasn’t happened in the past,” Hodson added.
Another part of the camp that tends to get overlooked from a fan’s perspective but is always important from a team standpoint is the information session, which took place early Saturday afternoon. Oil Caps staff spent time talking to the players, providing them with an overall picture of how the organization is run and what the club expects from the players both on and off the ice.
“The fact that we’re trying to be a hockey club that’s emulated but also continue to raise good hockey players and good men is important to us,” Hodson said. “We talked about different avenues where guys go after they play with us, in that there’s a lot of choices and a lot of options that are available to players who leave our program. We like to think we do a really good job of getting our players to that next level in hockey or in life. Also, the parents and players get to put a name to the face when it comes to our scouts and our entire staff, which is important as well.”
The Garry Cup wrapped up the weekend as Team Red defeated Team Black in what was a very competitive game, Hodson says. “You have to have a winner either way, but at the end of the day, it’s great to see it all come to fruition after the long weekend and see players give it their all with one final showing. Intrasquad games are big games for certain guys and it was no different this year. I thought our returning players and our prospects did very well. We’re proud of everyone involved.”
‘Vets need to just play their game’
Camp also saw the return of veteran players who will don the Oil Caps sweater this season, which include the likes of Ben Dalke and Kolten Kanaski up front, Tristen Cross on the back end and Dalton Dosch between the pipes.
Troy Leslie, head coach and GM, says the added responsibility of leadership can be a tough thing on players – and it’s important that they just focus on what they can control – which is their performance on the ice each night.
“Some players lead quietly, some are a little more boisterous, but at the end of the day, we only need them to be themselves,” Leslie said. “Because they’ve been around the league, they’re veterans and I look forward to working with them and helping them through it.”
Leslie reflected on each position after camp concluded, beginning with the netminders and he’s confident that Dosch, a 99-born from Willow Bunch, Sask., is ready for the task at hand.
“Dalton had a good camp and is going to have an opportunity to step up and be the starter. I feel Dalton is a real mature kid and a real calm guy. I think he’s ready for that challenge.”
On the blueline, Leslie says last year’s defence was rather atypical considering there were a few 17-year-olds who stepped up and contributed. This year, there’s a real good chance for more spots to fill and Leslie believes the offseason acquisition of Brock Shwaluk will help fill the void.
“Shwaluk will help play a leadership role and will help lead by example. He came into camp in very good shape. He’s going to be a shutdown guy for us.”
Up front, youth will be served, but Leslie couldn’t be more excited for the overall potential of the group.
“Our forward group is going to be a little bit younger but there’s also a lot of very good young players. The younger guys are going to need some time to get used to the league, but we feel they’re going to be good players this year and going forward into the future.”
An exciting time for Ramsey
It was Tyson Ramsey’s first time behind the bench during camp with the Oil Caps. Ramsey, who had been with the club as a scout this past season, took on the role of assistant coach during the offseason.
“This was the first chance you get to see some of your younger guys and the progress that they’ve made,” said Ramsey, the former bench boss of the Brandon AAA midget Wheat Kings. “We’ve got a really good group of returning veteran guys here and our young guys that came in certainly didn’t disappoint. They impressed us all weekend and gave us lots to talk about and there’s lots of decisions to make. It was a good weekend. I enjoyed it.”
Ramsey, who will oversee the forward group this season, says he’s learned a lot from the head coach in the short time he’s worked with Leslie.
“Just watching the way he (Leslie) does things and some of the different drills that he does is certainly helpful for me,” Ramsey said. “He’s given me a lot of responsibilities and I appreciate that. He’s got some trust in me and I’ve enjoyed my time working with him so far.”
The Oil Caps played in two exhibition games recently – both considered ‘rookie games’ – as the club had several youngsters in the lineups on Tuesday night against the Terriers in Portage and Wednesday against the Wolverines in Ochapowace, Sask. After falling 7-2 to the Terriers, the Oil Caps responded with a 7-1 win over Wayway the next night.
Hodson on Game 1 of preseason vs Portage: “We knew we were probably going to be a little undersized and under age just knowing the lineup they were putting forth, but we still felt comfortable with the group we had. We fought well. We hung in there. It wasn’t really a 7-2 game. It felt a lot closer than that.”
Hodson on Game 2 of preseason vs Wayway: “It’s a great way to set a tone that again, no matter the demographics of our team as far as age and how our makeup is, the expectation is we’re coming out to play hard every night and be a tough team to play against. Whether we lose in a rookie game or not, we want to come out the next game and get the win. It was good to see that. Some of our rookie guys who are going to be key parts of our team this year in Brett Paddock, Tanner Andrew, Dylan Halliday and Tristan Thompson really took a good step that night.”