The results on the ice remain to be seen, but it appears this year’s Brandon Wheat Kings did their homework during the off-season.
As usual, the Wheat Kings tested their players’ strength and conditioning during last week’s training camp, and head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said the results were striking.
"We have data for 12 years, and I go back four or five years to some pretty good hockey teams, that the guys now are significantly stronger than our players used to be," McCrimmon said.
"I think that’s the culture of high expectations from the club, good support with our facilities, as well as Jim Frederickson, our strength coach. And, as usually is the case in these situations, credit to the players for really taking it seriously and making it a priority."
Third-year forward Jayce Hawryluk and his frequent linemate, sophomore Jesse Gabrielle, topped the Wheat Kings’ veteran testing. McCrimmon said a closely ranked group of players, including Brett Kitt, Peter Quenneville, Colton Waltz, Quintin Lisoway and Ryley Lindgren followed the leaders.
Among the results, Hawryluk topped the club in vertical jump and lowest body-fat percentage. Gabrielle led the way in squat and bench press, while new Russian import Ivan Provorov impressed by leading the skating competition.
Hawryluk’s strong performance was no surprise, given he shone in fitness testing at the National Hockey League combine before being chosen 32nd overall by the Florida Panthers.
"I think everyone needs to go into the regular season in the best shape they can," said Hawryluk, who led the team in scoring last season with 64 points, including 24 goals, in 59 games. "If you want to be better and succeed as a pro, you’ve got to train like a pro."
Indeed, modern players are very in tune with the correlation between their performance in the gym and on the ice, prompting many teenagers to turn to extensive strength and fitness programs before they ever set foot in a WHL camp. That outlook suggests this year’s testing results are part of a trend rather than an exception, a notion rookie testing supports.
"We tested our first-year players as well, and they’re far ahead of where our first-year players usually are," McCrimmon said. "That, again, I think speaks to the commitment."
AROUND THE WHL: Former Brandon Midget AAA Wheat Kings C Jordy Stallard is having a fine pre-season with the Calgary Hitmen, with five assists in two games. Stallard, who turns 17 this month, had four assists and went +5 in a 12-3 win over the Prince Albert Raiders. Elkhorn LW Taylor Sanheim, an 18-year-old former prospect of the WHL’s Wheat Kings, is also in camp with the Hitmen and notched a goal and an assist and a plus/minus of +4 in the same game. Sanheim’s twin brother, Travis, a D-man going into his second season with the Hitmen, played in Calgary’s other pre-season game. The Philadelphia Flyers’ first-round pick in the year’s NHL draft picked up two assists in his outing … D Jordan Thomson of Wawanesa had two assists in his pre-season debut with the Saskatoon Blades … G Tyson Verhelst of Brandon has played in two of the Spokane Chiefs’ pre-season games, going 1-1 with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .923 save precentage.