After five exhibition games and just a couple of days before the season opener, Okotoks Oilers coach Dan MacDonald was still doing a little head scratching.
A force in the Alberta Junior Hockey League's South Division last season, finishing No. 2 overall, the Oilers are undergoing a relatively major makeover this season and MacDonald is still wondering how much punch his club will be able to deliver.
Goaltender Brad Eidsness, feted as the league's most valuable player, has gone off to play on a scholarship for a U.S. college and just 10 players are returning.
It's difficult to say because there's such a large turnover," said MacDonald, the team's second-year head coach, when asked to assess his team's chances.
"Really, we're still sorting things out.
"It's a pretty good group that is returning, so we're fine that way. There's good leadership, so we're happy with that. But we're still waiting to see what some guys can do."
The Oilers, who were looking to trim another player or two from the 28-man roster before tonight's season and home opener against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, lost three of five exhibition games.
That, of course, is no big deal as you try to fit in several new pieces and sort through three goaltenders, including returnee Braely Torris.
"I think as the exhibition season progressed, our intensity and drive improved," said MacDonald, "so I think we have that . . . I think we're a good energy team."
Last season, MacDonald had to get to know a relatively veteran lineup as the first-year coach. Now he finds himself in somewhat of a similar situation as he gets to know a bunch of new faces who, by the same token, are getting to know him.
One big thing he has on his side is the leadership skills of Justin Daigle and Jesse Hudkins, the only 20-year-olds on the roster.
"I think every year is a tall order," mused MacDonald, "whether you have a veteran team or not. Most of our young guys who went to (WHL) camps are back now and we pretty much know what we're working with . . . I think half of them are Calgary kids.
"But it's still a feeling-out process, a learning process."
The Oilers tackle the Oil Barons at 7 p.m. and come right back Sunday afternoon at 1:30 to entertain St. Albert.
John Down, Calgary Herald, Septembner 6/08.