Northeast BC and Yukon Trackers head coach Brennen Giroux says he wants to establish his team's identity early on, starting with the team's first camp being held this weekend at the Taylor District Ice Arena.
"I hope a lot of hard working guys come into camp," said Giroux on Saturday in anticipation of the forthcoming Northern Alberta Midget Hockey League season. "Last year we sort of lacked the work ethic, the positivity of players and the ability to go the extra mile. We also lacked the scoring depth so we'll be looking at the work ethic, and the players that can put the puck into the net this year."
The Trackers camp will be held Aug. 23-25, with the first of five ice times beginning on Friday at 2:00 p.m. Over the course of the three days Trackers hopefuls will be evaluated equally on skills, game situations and conditioning. They will also be interviewed to determine team commitment and discuss the team's structure.
With two camps planned for the preseason, Giroux says the initial camp will likely be committed to determining what type of team the Trackers will ice this coming season.
"What our expectations are of this camp is to see the quality of players that are coming into camp this year and try to base it off of what type of team identity we want to go forward with in the first couple days of Camp 1, so that we can assess and make a good evaluation for Camp 2," he explained.
As such, Giroux doesn't plan to make many initial cuts except if there are too many players at one position. A problem he and the coaching staff ran into last year when 12 goalies dressed for Camp 1.
Though interestingly enough the goaltender's spot is one position camp evaluators will be looking at closely to replace graduated goalie Michael Chute, who along with eight other roster players aged out last season.
"We've got about two or three spots open on D, three to four spots on the forward side, and we need to fill Chutey's [goaltender Michael Chute] in net," said Giroux, "that will be a tough one to fill because he has been the go-to-guy for almost three years now."
Giroux does expect backup goaltender Logan Edwards to assume the starting role, but needs to add another tender to challenge Edwards for the position.
"He's [Edwards] been working hard all summer and will be ready to go. I think he'll be willing to take on the responsibility as the go-to-guy this season," said Giroux, while noting that there are a number of possible prospects from the region at that position.
"From what we saw last year there are probably three or four goalies that we were looking at last year, and that will be a really big decision."
And while the goalie spot will be closely scrutinized, so to will all returning players' positions, as Giroux made it clear that no spot is safe.
"None of the returning guys spots are set in stone right now," he said. "We need to determine the quality of players and determine the identity of the team we are going forward with this year.
"This could be a year where some returning guys are let go because where we want to go with this program - in terms of development and wanting to push guys into junior 'A' and junior 'B' levels - I think we need to approach this season at making a good run at the NAMHL [Northern Alberta Midget Hockey League] championship this year, and challenge teams at Tier 1 tournaments we go to," added Giroux.
Along with the 32 regular season games the Trackers will play against Northern Alberta's top midget 'AA' teams, the regional all-star squad will also add three to four Tier 1 BC tournaments to their schedule.
Giroux feels the Trackers can improve in both the NAMHL standings where they placed third overall and reached the second round of the North Black Division, as well as against the province's best midget clubs.
"Last year was a stepping stone in terms of where we want to go, we made playoffs and won first round, which we didn't do the previous year," he recalled. "We were competitive in Tier 1 but we want to go to those tournaments and be a team to be reckoned with."
The Trackers second camp is scheduled for Sept. 6-8 with the arena to be announced at a later date.
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