Eagles prepare for AJHL season opener
By: Justin Brisbane
| Posted: Thursday, Aug 30, 2012 06:00 am
For a week in August, everyone wants to be a Canmore Eagle.
Eighty potential Canmore Eagles arrived in town for the start of the club’s AJHL training camp on Thursday (Aug. 23), trying to earn a spot on the 2012/2013 roster.
At the close of last year’s abysmal 18-39-0-3 season, general manager and head coach Andrew Milne sent a message to returning players to get their act together and prove they are not a last place team.
“I’m happy the guys took last year’s year end message to heart. They all came in in good shape and know they have to come in this year and earn some respect in the league,” Milne said.
The Eagles have an exhibition match at home on Friday (Aug. 31) against Olds at 7 p.m. at Alex Kaleta Arena and another on Saturday in Calgary against the Mustangs. The team’s regular season begins on the road in Olds on Sept. 8, with their home opener on Sept. 14 against the Whitecourt Wolverines, formerly the St. Albert Steel.
While there are 17 returning players in camp, Milne stresses no jobs are safe after last year.
“I’ve stressed all summer we have 23 spots open and we want players who are willing to commit,” Milne said.
That being said, several Bow Valley residents appear poised to return to the Eagles lineup, including Luke Simpson, Simon Philp, John Stevens and Jeremy Gordon. Canmorite Roman Meltzer also attended camp, however, the defenceman is still weighing his playing options. Other key veterans such as Connor Hoekstra, Trey Phillips and Ciaron Driscoll also returned to camp looking for redemption.
The final roster will be revealed this Sunday, however, Milne said he’ll look for two key qualities in new Eagles.
“We want guys who can skate and we want to be a team that’s hard to play against,” Milne said.
Milne said he’s also 100 per cent committed to the team. This year he turned down a chance to be an assistant coach with Team Canada at the World Junior A championship. He’s taken the job twice before, but this year is focused solely on the Eagles.
Physical testing on Thursday (Aug. 23) revealed that little-used forward Braeden Music arrived in top shape, winning the team’s pushup and situp competition. Music looked significantly faster and stronger in camp this year and scored a couple of goals in the team’s blue/white game on Sunday (Aug. 26).
“Braeden is a perfect example of a player showing up and wanting a bigger role. He showed up in great shape,” Milne said.
Newly-signed rookie forward Alex Bechtold was the fastest runner, despite his sizable frame. He looks poised to grab a centre spot on the team and was signed to a contract this week. With Bechtold, 200-pound Nils Moser and 6-foot-1 centre Zack Rassell, the Ealges will have size up the middle. They’ll also need to add goals after last year’s leading scorer Luke Philp appears poised to stick with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL.
Ty Swabb will be the team’s number one goaltender this year. After playing last season in Prince George, the talented ‘tender could prove to be a difference maker this year in Canmore. The team has struggled to find a bonafide number one goaltender since the departure of Sam Brittain.
“He should give us a chance to win every night,” Milne said.
Two players who impressed Milne early in camp were Jordon Revie and Connor Wilson. He said they were two skilled players who could add some goal scoring to the lineup.
More players could arrive later in camp. Goaltender Cam Barnes is currently attending a WHL camp, as is Keegan Thompson, who is trying to catch on with the Calgary Hitmen.
Several players from last year won’t return. Goaltender Michael Salmon was traded last week to the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, while Wyat Haustein, who saw limited ice time last year after being acquired from the Fort McMurray Oil Barons at the trade deadline, decided to retire from junior hockey and didn’t report to camp.