When you’ve seen as many training camps as Fort St. John Huskies assistant coach Todd Alexander, August is never a time for panic.
The hopes of coaching staff and management were tempered from Aug. 26 - 28 at the Huskies initial training camp with only 25 bodies on the ice for each of the three sessions.
That’s the lowest turnout in the last three seasons, and with four of the team’s five key goal scorers from last season having moved on, Alexander understands there is no replacing those names-- he only hopes the team can forge a new identity in 2016-17.
“I don’t think that anybody is going to replace (those players). We never really look at it like that,” Alexander said.
“Every year we lose key guys and every year you have surprises… guys that come up and play roles… until we really get into things and start sorting out lines and having practice where we can figure things out — it’s hard to tell.”
The low turnout is a recognizable problem late in the summer for a Junior B organization that routinely sees turnover from season to season but this year the issue was more visable than in years past.
Alexander said the team had about 11 or 12 players competing for spots at different camps for teams in different leagues — something that’s different from other seasons.
“It’s a little bit different this year, “Alexander said. “We just have guys at high level camps right now or who are away for different commitments so numbers are down this weekend but we’ll have those guys back for the following weeks when we need to get read to go for exhibition.”
The team expects at least a dozen players to arrive back in town from other junior camps over the next several weeks before their first big test on Sept. 17 in Vermillion. When the time comes, it will be veterans like Josh Robinson who will look to carry the offensive load and leadership roles.
“(I) hope to be more of a leader this year,” Robinson said. “We don’t have too many older guys so us younger guys are going to have to step up.”
Robinson said despite the small amount of regulars on the ice at camp, it’s encouraging to see local players from Fort St. John step up and try to make the team.
“(There’s) a lot of new faces,” he said. “(We) don’t have the fire power that we did last year, but it’s definitely good to see some new faces and local kids coming in and hopefully making the team.”
2016-2017 will be Robinson’s third year with the Huskies after putting up 39 points in 65 games in his first two seasons as largely a secondary scoring threat.
Offensive output aside, Robinson learned a lot from the previous leadership regime, guys like Kody Disher, Cayle Bell and Jordan Harder.
“Those guys have been in the league for a long time and their leadership qualities were really good and you kind of pick up on things to say and just how to act,” Robinson said.
If he can find some chemistry with returning rookies Adam Bowie (36GP, 9G, 15A) and Jacob Lang (32GP, 17G, 15A), all three could be a bright spot for the Huskies in 2017. Add in three new defensemen to the mix with late season addition Wyatt Griffiths, rookies Jared Loewen and Aiden Tegart (who both played for the NEBC Trackers last season), there are a few more reasons for optimism.
As far as the crease protector goes, Logan Edwards will look to find his footing as the main man between the pipes. He was one of four goalies in camp, and posted a 3.63 goals against average last season in 19 games. He had a 10-6 record with a .888 save percentage.
The Huskies will start the Northwest Junior Hockey League season with three games on the road between Sept. 24 and Oct. 4 before arriving home at the North Peace Arena for their home opener on Oct. 8 against the Sexsmith Vipers. The Huskies will open the season at Sexsmith on Sept. 24.