The Brandon Midget AAA Wheat Kings open training camp tomorrow, but it will be quite some time before head coach Ken Schneider knows what kind of hand he’ll be dealt this season.
The Wheat Kings led the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League’s West Division with a 32-10-2 record last season before falling in the league semifinals to the Winnipeg Thrashers. They’ve got the potential to be a top team again, with 13 players eligible to return, but realistically Schneider knows that he’ll have more holes than that to fill with several of his players still battling for spots on junior rosters. In theory, Schneider could get four of his top five scorers back, but all four of those players are still in camp with the Western Hockey League’s Wheat Kings and the coach isn’t holding his breath waiting for any of them except Tanner Kaspick, who isn’t old enough to play in the WHL yet.
“You know that it will all play itself out, but you have to kind of be patient with it,” Schneider said. “Of course we’ve got I guess what I’d consider the big three of (Duncan) Campbell, (Brett) Kitt and (Tyler) Coulter at the Wheat King camp and based on what I’ve seen to this point, they’re making a bid.
“Ultimately our goal is to make sure these kids have a chance to get to the next level. If we can help them any way we can, we want to see them be successful. But at the same time if it doesn’t work out this year, we’d love to have them back.”
It’s not just the WHL that’s threatening to take a bite out of his roster. A number of other players, including forward Josh Kobelka (Neepawa Natives), goalie Tyler Gutenberg (Winkler Flyers), and defencemen James Shearer (Steinbach Pistons) and Carter McMurdo (Swan Valley Stampeders) are away at Junior A camps, although Schneider is holding out hope he’ll get them back.
The Wheat Kings had a large contingent of players who played effectively as first-year midgets last season, like Shearer, Jordy Stallard, Coltyn Bates, Robert Hechler and Jesse Lawrence as well as Kaspick, who had 38 points in 42 games after getting special permission to play at 14.
“We had a pretty strong nucleus of 15-year-old players last year and they’ll be the main component to this year’s team,” said Schneider, who has lost second-year defenceman Braden Compton to a team in Omaha, Neb. “Then we’ve got Tanner Kaspick and again he’s at Wheat Kings camp still, but at some point he’ll return to us as a 15-year-old this year.”
Throw in some talented players expected to come up from bantam like Ty Lewis, Blake Jameson and Brendan Kokorudz, and Schneider expects to have some good competition over the rest of the month despite the absences.
“(Having players away at junior camps) makes it a bit interesting, but it also gives us a chance to look at some kids that we really don’t know all that well and that’s not a bad thing either,” he said.
Camp opens on Friday, with a session at 4 p.m., at the Sportsplex. Ice times will follow on Saturday at noon and on Sunday at 10 a.m.
The team plays its first of six pre-season games on Wednesday against the Southwest Cougars at the Sportsplex at 7:30 p.m.
The Cougars open their camp tonight at 7:40 in Souris. Following that will be skates Friday at 7:40 p.m., Saturday at 9 a.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. The Yellowhead Chiefs begin camp Friday in Shoal Lake at 6:30 p.m., with scrimmages on Saturday at 2 and 5:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 4:30 p.m.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 5, 2013