It still might be the middle of summer, but the Lethbridge Hurricanes already have the ball rolling in preparation for the 2012-2013 WHL season.
Training camp is just a month away and ice will be put back into the ENMAX Centre starting August 18th. It's been another lengthy off-season for this hockey team and after missing the playoffs the last three years, making the post-season this year has to be the number one goal.
The Hurricanes will still have a relatively young team, but with some experience under the belts of players like Jay Merkley, Macoy Erkamps, Jamal Watson, and Jaimen Yakubowski to name a few along with the off-season acquisition of arguably the top goaltender in the Western Hockey League in Ty Rimmer, the Hurricanes look to perhaps turn a few heads this season.
Players like Ryan Pilon and Reid Duke will get their first full seasons in a Lethbridge Hurricanes uniform and will certainly be a fun pair to watch. For the first time in a few seasons, there seems to be more optimism around this group of players, the majority of whom will be with this team for the next few years, which will be very important to building chemistry and a top-notch competitive team. I know a few fans are still skeptical given the on-ice performance the past few years, but there is some serious young talent within this organization at the moment, a lot of which will be showcased this season. Don't get me wrong. It's going to take a while for some of this to develop, but the Hurricanes have players in the system that other teams would die to have.
Even talking with a few of my media colleagues in the City, there is an air of cautious optimism and excitement with this group. It took a while for last year's team to find it's groove and it's confidence, but we did see the development of a number of first-year players. Those players, now going into their second WHL season, know what to expect and should come back for training camp hungrier than ever. I think this should be an interesting season to watch, but given that there will be pressure on the coaching staff to make the playoffs. Three years is a long time with no post-season action, so as I said earlier, this must be the ultimate goal for this organization on the ice this season.
I recently spoke with Hurricanes Head Coach and GM about the upcoming season and training camp.
Pat: Rich, do you expect to busy the next few weeks and is there anything you'll be looking for in terms of shoring up this team before training camp?
Preston: "Well, we've still got our 20 year olds Pat. (Bouanassisi, Rimmer, Johnston, Hood, Oslanski, Kizuik) I'm continuing to work on that. There are always little things to do here and there before camp and there's a roster freeze August 1st. We'll see. Camp is only a couple of weeks away. It's coming fast. We've talked to the players and everyone is excited to be coming back and getting this going."
Pat: This will be the first time the Hurricanes will hold training camp at the ENMAX Centre is four seasons with all the renovations that've been going on. Everyone must be looking forward to that?
Preston: Oh yeah! That makes a big difference. Just to have our new dressing room and our weight facility so we can do off-ice training which we haven't been able to do before during camp. I know the players are looking forward to that. We've got all the dressing rooms we need, which we didn't have before for camp. I think for all our younger players and the players we've drafted the last 2 to 3 years, just to be able to skate in the home building is huge. Now that it's completely done, it all looks great. It's be great for the parents to just sit in a nice building and watch camp."
Pat: Rich, with a few weeks to go before camp, do you know how many rookies you're planning on keeping once the season starts?
Preston: "It's hard to say Pat. We have quite a few returning players from last year. This is what training camp is for is to see who's ready to play."