With the sound of pucks rattling off glasses, whistles cutting into the air and the smell of popcorn wafting through the arena, it almost felt like a return to normalcy as the Cranbrook Bucks wrapped up training camp.
After a year of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with an unconventional spring season in he ‘bubble’ hub of Penticton last spring, the Bucks were back on home ice, in preparation for a new BCHL campaign.
Following training camp, the Bucks doubled up two preseason wins over the Trail Smoke Eaters over the weekend, as the club skates towards the new season.
Ryan Donald, head coach and general manager of the Bucks, said 40 players came out to camp, with 28 remaining on the roster for preseason action.
Over the course of training camp, Donald said hockey operations staff stressed fundamentals skills, habits, and expectations as part of the evaluation process with players.
“We want them to be carrying themselves and treating themselves as professionals, so that was big part of it in camp,” Donald said.
As the BCHL heads towards a new season, the Bucks are taking some lessons learned in Penticton, which served as a ‘bubble’ city hosting three Jr. A clubs that played a truncated season of 20 games apiece.
Donald said it was a whirlwind experience that felt like it lingered forever, but also flew by, as the team spent five weeks together in the Okanagan. Despite the unconventional nature of the season, Donald said it helped set the organization’s course.
“Like I said to our guys at the end of it, we were using that as an opportunity, we talked about laying a foundation for this program and what we were going to be in the future, what we wanted to be known for,” Donald said.
“Wins and losses are obviously one way to evaluate success, but for our organization’s perspective, and within our players, we talked a lot about how we were playing, how competitive we were, how we never wanted to quit; we wanted to stay in games. We wanted to be a team that was difficult to play against and establish that identity.”
In preseason action, the Bucks extinguished the Smoke Eaters twice this past weekend in a double-header series by scores of 5-3 and 3-1, respectively, on Friday and Saturday.
The team will have another pair of exhibition games against BCHL teams next weekend to kick off October.
Coaches are still watching, and evaluating — and not just during the games, but also in practice. Compete level, creativity, and chemistry are just a few things Donald says he will be looking for over the next few weeks as the club continues the evaluation process.
One special exhibition match outside BCHL opponents will be the Canadian National Women’s Team, which is making a stop in Cranbrook on the road to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
The Bucks will meet the national team on the ice Tuesday, Oct. 5 at Western Financial Place.
“I think it’s a unique opportunity,” said Donald. “These are women who are high-performance athletes that are heading on to the Olympics, so if we can be a small part of their success in Beijing, that’d be awesome.”