Dominic Thom, left, gets a glove in the mask courtesy Brett Kitt, centre, as Nolan Patrick skates in during first period action Sunday at the Brandon Wheat Kings intrasquad game at Westman Place. (JAMES O'CONNOR / BRANDON SUN)
Brandon Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon and his staff were expecting a highly competitive training camp, and that’s exactly what they got.
One doesn’t need to look any further than the first round of cuts for proof as the Wheat Kings re-assigned nine players after their intrasquad game on Sunday and kept 34 players — including two goaltenders, 11 defencemen and 21 forwards — on their pre-season roster.
"We anticipated it would be real competitive for the final decisions and we’ve got more players coming out of training camp than we ordinarily do," McCrimmon said. "I think that speaks to that. We move on to the next stage of the evaluation."
Evan Robert and Logan Thompson, a pair of 16-year-old goalies, were sent home on Sunday, leaving Jordan Papirny and Curtis Honey as the only netminders remaining. The Wheat Kings also sent down 16-year-old defencemen Tanner Browne, Aaron Kellogg and Mark Taraschuk and 16-year-old forwards Conner Lukan, Tristen Elder and Kirklan Lycar, while 17-year-old forward Liam Gregor left on his own accord.
Brandonite Ty Lewis, a 15-year-old forward who is ineligible to play full-time in the WHL this year, was also re-assigned. Among the 34 players still with the team temporarily are Brandon’s other top three 15-year-old prospects selected from this year’s bantam draft — centre Nolan Patrick (fourth overall), defenceman Kale Clague (sixth overall) and centre Tanner Kaspick (25th overall), who is from Brandon.
Duncan Campbell, a 17-year-old forward who played for the Midget AAA Wheat Kings last year, also made the first cut. He was in Red Deer Rebels’ camp earlier in the week before coming to Brandon on the weekend.
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Dominic Thom, a 17-year-old rookie defenceman, was the only player who didn’t make it through Sunday’s intrasquad game healthy. Thom left the game with a bruised hip.
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Four Wheat King veterans head to NHL camps this week. Eric Roy goes to Calgary today to join the Flames and fellow defenceman Nick Walters is off to St. Louis, while import forward Richard Nejezchleb will try out with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Captain Ryan Pulock leaves for New York to join the Islanders on Wednesday.
McCrimmon is excited to see those players develop and plans to take advantage of their absence by playing his younger players more.
"Those experiences will make them better and they’ll bring that back to our organization," he said. "… It’s more about playing younger players at this time of year, and not just younger players but we’ve got a lot of players that returned that we’re expecting more from. It’s also important to get a chance to see those players and see where they’re taking their game."
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Jayce Hawryluk and Pulock led the way in the veterans’ fitness testing this season.
Hawryluk was the top conditioned player, leading the way in body fat (4.47 per cent), tying for first in chin-ups (26) and vertical jump (29.5 inches) and finishing second in squats (338 pounds) and bench press (247 pounds).
Pulock tied Hawryluk in vertical jump and topped all Wheat Kings in squats (426 pounds) and bench press (297 pounds) and was also first in overall leg power. Chad Robinson and Jens Meilleur equalled Hawryluk in chin-ups (26), while John Quenneville topped the team in the VO2 and aerobic power testing.
Overall, Wheat King strength and conditioning coach Jim Frederickson was impressed with the veterans’ off-season efforts across the board.
"This was one of the strongest, top conditioned groups we’ve ever had," Frederickson stated in a news release.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 3, 2013