Fitness tests a prelude to main camp

Kootenay Ice veterans and prospects undergo a grueling series of exercises prior to official camp start.

Veterans and prospects were put through their paces on Tuesday as Kootenay Ice coaching staff put their players through rigorous fitness testing before training camp opens on Wednesday.

Bench presses, chin-ups, agility testing and endurance running were all methods used by athletic trainer Cory Cameron in assessing the fitness levels of the returning players and prospects.

The club even utilized the track up at the College of the Rockies for a punishing test of endurance as players were required to run 20 heats of 100 metres—each of which had to be completed in under 20 seconds.

Ice head coach Ryan McGill has only had Monday’s skate and Tuesday’s fitness tests to observe the players under his command, but he already likes what he sees.

“They’re all very dedicated to the program this summer and coming into camp in excellent shape so that they give themselves a great chance to start on the right foot,” McGill said. “That, to me, was the biggest impression I got out of them. They all showed great maturity in that, for sure.”

Training camp officially opens on Wednesday, where veterans and prospects will be interspersed together on three teams—Blue, Black and White—for six intrasquad games over the next four days.

The camp will conclude on Sunday with the annual Blue-White charity game, which is admission by donation and a fundraiser for the United Way.

McGill acknowledges that the team will be young, but he said there is a good core in place to lead the team and mentor new prospects.

“We’re really looking forward to this year. I think we have a way more positive outlook on the team than some other people do,” said McGill. “I think this team is going to be a good team and I look right from the top to the bottom.

“We’ve got some skill, we’ve got some grit, we’ve got some good leadership, we’ve got a good older group and, you know what, the goaltender is going to get a chance to show that he belongs, and hopefully he can do that.”

Ice captain Drew Czerwonka traded his runners for a clipboard as he helped out the coaching staff with testing while recovering from what McGill calls an upper-body injury.

“He is working on his rehab daily and if I’m looking at a timeframe to see him come back, I’m thinking he’s going to be back sometime between the beginning of the season and the first two weeks,” McGill added.

With fitness testing completed, it will be up to on-ice performances for prospects to impress McGill and his staff enough to earn a spot on the roster.

Tanner Faith, a defensive prospect who is entering into his third camp, will be looking to overcome the injury demons that dogged him last year.

Faith, selected 33rd overall in the second round of the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, took an early exit from camp last year after getting injured and had another stroke of bad luck when he hurt his shoulder in practice after getting called up last January.

His shoulder injury required surgery, which took him out for the rest of last season with the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League.

“This is my time to make an impression on the coaches, especially the new coaches here, and try to show them what I have,” said Faith.

Collin Shirley, the Ice’s first-rounder in the 2011 Draft, will be looking to do the same thing during his second appearance training camp.

“New coaching staff, everyone starts from scratch,” said Shirley. “Everyone’s at the same thing and you got to show your stuff and make sure you can have a spot on this team and make them know that you’re here and that you want to stay.”

Shirley, a left-winger, spent this past season in the SMHL with the Saskatoon Blazers where he posted nine goals and nine assists in 37 games. He also made an appearance on Team Saskatchewan for the Western Canada Challenge Cup tournament last October.

One prospect expected to throw down the glove to challenge for a spot on the roster is goaltender Wyatt Hoflin, a 17-year-old netminder who played Midget AAA with the St. Albert Raiders last season.

Hoflin backstopped his team to an appearance in the finals for the Alberta provincial title, but the Raiders lost out to the Red Deer Rebels in a three-game series.

“That long playoff, I got to work on the pressure and handling that pressure and being that number one guy where night in and night out, people are counting on you to be the best,” said Hoflin.

The Ice had two second round picks in the 2010 Draft, scooping up Hoflin four selections after taking Faith.

This will be his third camp and he will be doing everything he can to get onto the roster, which boils down to simply keeping the puck out of the net.

“I don’t really give up on a puck,” said Hoflin. “It’s not over until I got it or it’s in the back of the net, and hopefully I get it more than it’s in the back of the net.”

All the prospects attending camp owe their appearance to the scouting efforts to Ice head scout Garnet Kazuik, who scours minor hockey leagues across Western Canada to identify future WHL players.

Training camp is where the proverbial cream rises to the top, which allows Kazuik to see how his draft picks have developed over their seasons in their respective leagues.

However, the ultimate decision on who ends up on the roster lies with the coaching staff, which is a challenge in itself as McGill and Kletzel are new to the Ice and Kazuik is still figuring out what they look for in players.

“I have to get familiar with what they like and what they want, so it’s still a little bit of a learning process between us,” Kazuik said.

“There’s going to be a ton of communication this weekend amongst the three of us because it’s their first viewing of all of our players and prospects so I’m sure they’ll have a hundred questions for me.”