The Grand Forks Border Bruins held their pre-season training camp last weekend, gearing up for another year of hockey with the goal of finishing higher than last year’s third place in the Neil Murdoch Division and division semi-final playoff exit, at the hands of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. With the coaching staff mulling over players’ performances this week, here’s a look at how Grand Forks and their opponents are shaping up this year.
Grand Forks Border Bruins – Fresh off a five-year contract extension, coach John Clewlow will be stressing his style of hockey at camp (Aug. 30-Sept. 1)- fast paced and gritty.
“As long as you are skating and moving the puck, and then going into the corners to get that puck, that’s a fun hockey game to watch,” says Clewlow, whose team last year won 21 games and collected 45 points. “It turns in some results.”
Leadership falls on everyone, but Clewlow says they are going to have a core group of older players that need to carry that torch and hand it down.”
The Border Bruins have that in Jake Huculak, a mid-season acquisition, as well as Keaghan Holub, who is “a wrecking ball on the ice.”
There is also Josh Garlough-Bell, who racked up 30 goals in 37 games. “He fell into our hands and it was pretty much an unbelievable pick up for us,” says Clewlow, who hopes to get a few more goals from him before Garlough-Bell moves on to a higher level. “Extremely talented player for us. He has speed, skill, can shoot the puck. Pretty much the best in the league I would say.”
Rookies to shine as the Border Bruins celebrate their 50th anniversary is local Raeden Rougeau, a defenceman who played as an affiliate last season.
“He did his job really well. No real mistakes,” says Clewlow. There is also Kieran Nordman, a skilled fast forward, who Clewlow thinks will turn heads. While not a rookie, goalie Shane Zilka picked up from the Kelowna Chiefs, is being expected to provide several big saves. Last season he won 17 of 21 games, earning five shutouts.
Nelson Leafs -The Leafs (35 wins, 72 points last season) held a competitive camp Aug. 23-25 that included a strong group of returning players. “There is a standard that we would want to maintain,” says Mario DiBella, the division’s coach of the year last season. “Hopefully this year we will go a bit further in the playoffs than last year.” Looked upon to lead the Leafs are David Sanchez, named the captain, and Kaleb Comishin, a local product. Comishin is a skilled defenceman who will man the power-play, while Sanchez is an energy player with an intimidating on-ice presence.
“Players that play against him are afraid of him,” says DiBella.
Recruiting rookies went well, adding Max Hurring from New Zealand. He played pro as a 16-year-old in New Zealand winning rookie of the year. They also have Jaden Shumilak from Winnipeg, Ryan Janowski and Jorden Werner from Arizona. They all bring size and skill, which DiBella says is “a pretty deadly combination.”
Beaver Valley Nitehawks – Expectations on Nitehawks veterans are high. Coach Terry Jones wants everyone to compete for spots that are available and the staff wants it to be competitive. “I think we have pretty high expectations for the type of camp that we want,” says Jones, whose team won 27 games and collected 59 points last season. “We want it to be upbeat and hard working. We look forward to getting started.” After playing 16 rookies last season, expectations are a little bit higher. Jones has a core group of guys that know exactly what is expected.
“We’re going to expect to be a bit better. Be sharper to start the season,” he says. “I’m hoping our foundation of what we’re trying to build is already in place.”
The Nitehawks have a few rookies that excite Jones. Marcus McEachern brings skill and an excellent attitude, while Zach Park, a Trail native, saw playoff action as an affiliate and brings physicality, speed and strength.
Spokane Braves -The Braves (19 wins, 42 points last season) held their main camp in June.
Coach Mike Bay said it went well with several young, talented players attending.
“We wanted to identify and commit to some to start building our team as well as start building relationships with younger prospects,” he says. What stood out to Bay during the camp was how fast and hungry the young players were.
Castlegar Rebels – Coach Carter Duffin says a lot of their tone for this season was set through the rebuilding direction last year, which they won 13 games, collecting 31 points. “We are keen on making sure we have the right type of young men and the right type of character in our dressing room,” says Duffin. “Hockey is that by-product that will come from that type of character. That type of work ethic.”
A strong core group of returning players will set the standard and the bar that new players coming into the room are going to have to meet. Duffin has found rookies who will fit into their room well, one is Caleb Concalves, who the team is excited to have back. The Vanderhoof product played nine games as an affiliate, scoring a goal.
“He is extremely fast. He has the ability to adjust his speed and take off, putting defenders in a tough position to contain him,” said Duffin on the Rebels website.