Robert Hechler, foreground, is pursued by Jordan McCausland during a drill Saturday at the Midget AAA Wheat Kings training camp at the Sportsplex. (JAMES O’CONNOR/BRANDON SUN)
Former Brandon Wheat Kings coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk was a guest coach Saturday at the Midget AAA Wheat Kings training camp at the Sportsplex. (JAMES O’CONNOR/BRANDON SUN)
The first weekend of training camp for the Midget AAA Brandon Wheat Kings has been challenging.
The Wheat Kings drew 48 players to try out — the most in the last three years — and 11 of those were goaltenders. Add on top of that that six players who could return are away at WHL and MJHL camps, and it’s hard for head coach Ken Schneider to figure out what his team is going to look like.
Schneider wasn’t sure what to expect from all the players after the first day of camp, but he admitted there were a few surprises and he likes where they’re sitting now.
"Saturday went really well and (Sunday) we had a really good scrimmage," said Schneider, who has cut the roster down to 30 players. "We made some decisions so we’ve cut down a bit to get a more workable number of players in camp. It’s not a program where you make the decisions on your team over a course of a weekend, we have a month to work with, with a tournament and exhibition games."
One of the biggest challenges was dealing with the goaltenders. On Saturday, Schneider realized that they hadn’t given them enough ice time to make an informed decision on who to keep, so they set up stations around the Sportsplex rink before the team’s intrasquad game on Sunday to get a better look.
The coaching staff won’t have that problem for the rest of the pre-season as they’ve trimmed the number of goalies from 11 to two, plus Tyler Gutenberg who’s is at the Winkler Flyers’ camp.
The Wheat Kings also are without James Shearer (Steinbach Pistons) and Carter McMurdo (Swan Valley Stampeders) as well as Tyler Coulter, Brett Kitt and Tanner Kaspick, who are with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
Without them and not knowing how many will return has forced other players to step up, like Josh Kobelka. The 16-year-old forward is heading into his second year with the squad and is trying to move into a leadership role.
"I realize that I’m going to be one of the older guys on the team, so I’m going to try to be a leader now that most of the older guys are gone," said Kobelka, who was held pointless in the intrasquad game. "I just tried to stay as positive as I can and play hard and set a good example for the younger guys."
Schneider, who thinks this year’s squad will struggle to match last season’s record of 32-10-2, is trying to balance a roster when he isn’t sure how many of those six players will return, but he’ll turn his attention to the rookies this week.
The Wheat Kings have two days of training before they play their first exhibition game on Wednesday when they host the Southwest Cougars. Schenider plans to play only rookies to see who can impress him the most.
"You’re only as good as your last shift," he said. "That’s an old statement, but it’s a true statement."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 9, 2013