by Bruce Campbell - Sports Editor - Western Wheel
A smaller camp has allowed the Okotoks Junior A Oilers’ coaching staff to have a stronger focus on the players trying to make the team’s 2010-2011 roster.
“We started with less than half the number of players at camp than we did last year,” said Okotoks Oilers coach Garry VanHereweghe. “I think with the smaller numbers the players can see the light at the end of the tunnel rather than when you have a 100 guys.”
The Oilers started camp on Aug. 24 and have played a pair of exhibition games with the Calgary Canucks. They lost 5-2 in Calgary on Friday and won in overtime 3-2 on Saturday night at the Centennial Arena in Okotoks.
However, wins and losses in the exhibition season are like campaign speeches — they don’t mean much but you have to decipher what’s going on to make a wise choice.
“If there is one area that I would like to see more of, it is intensity,” VanHereweghe said. “We have now played two games and an entire camp and we haven’t seen any altercations… We don’t condone that but at the same time we need to know that we are big and tough enough to look after matters as a team.. If there is one area we have to improve it’s in-your-face hockey.”
One spot where the Oilers are not lacking intensity is in net. VanHereweghe has a glut of goalies at camp and he indicated the team may have to carry three goalies at the start of the season.
Okotoks has goalies Sean Cahill and Michael Matyas returning from last year’s South Division championship team, and rookies Jared D’Amico and Riley Parker from the Notre Dame Hounds, who won the Canadian Midget AAA championship last year are also in camp.
Goalie Tyler Hughes, who played for the Okotoks Midget AA Oilers last season was released despite a good outing at camp and a solid performance in allowing one goal in 30 minutes of play in the Oilers’ 3-2 victory Saturday.
“Tyler came into a tough situation and he didn’t play his way off the team,” VanHereweghe said. “It was a numbers thing and us knowing we had two returning goalies and others in the mix. He responded very well.”
He said Hughes is likely going to Melville to try out for the Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior A Hockey League.
VanHereweghe said the 16-year-old D’Amico might have had the most impressive camp with winning five of the six intra-squad games for which he was in net.
The Oilers have 13 veterans returning from last year’s roster and they are being pushed by a strong group of 17-year–old players. However, there’s been no hostility towards the young guys.
“One thing I have been impressed with is the leadership of the vets and helping the younger kids,” VanHereweghe said. “I think the leadership and direction among the guys at camp is one of the best I have ever seen in my Junior A career.”
VanHereweghe said returning Oiler Nolan Huysmans has been impressive in camp.
“The kid has shown up and has been a front-runner in main camp and carried that into the exhibition game when he scored our first goal (against the Canucks) Saturday,” VanHereweghe said. “He is more physical and brought character and leadership.”
The Oilers must have their roster trimmed to 25 players by Dec. 1. However, VanHereweghe said he expects to have his numbers down to approximately 23 players by mid December.
The Oilers’ first regular season game is Sept. 10 when they travel to Camrose to take on the Kodiaks.
Okotoks’ home opener is Friday Sept. 17 when the St. Albert Steel come to the Centennial Arena at 7 p.m.