The 2017 Kimberley Dynamiters main camp has come and gone quickly. The team is now busy preparing for two exhibition games against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats before the season’s start on September 8.
Head coach and general manager Derek Stuart said that the staff has done the difficult task of narrowing down the roster from 39 camp attendees to 24 players for the first exhibition game. The task of narrowing down the roster for the season opener, however, only gets more difficult as players potentially return from Junior A tryouts.
“This is a frustrating time of year,” he said, “Some of the guys that are with us now will not be with us a week from now.”
But looking back on camp as a whole, Stuart was pleased.
“It was intense and competitive [and] cranked up as [it] went along,” he sadi. “The practice on Friday was actually quite hard.
“I am impressed how in shape a lot of the new guys and veterans were.”
Compared to last season, the Nitros have more veterans returning to the lineup.
Both James Farmer and James Rota finished last season playing defense, but are moving up to forward — where they started last season — and joining Nicholas Ketola and Brandt Bertoia as returning forwards. The move is due to the number of returning veterans that are defencemen: Devon Langelaar, Mason Palaga, Lucas Purdy, Harrison Risdon, Brett Roberts, and Tyler Van Steinburg.
Having that many returning veterans on defense may seem problematic, but Stuart is happy with it.
“It makes it easier on the coaching staff to have six defenders,” he said. “They all showed well on the weekend, and have made it tough for us to determine who plays in which situation.”
Between the six defenders, they have considerable experience as they combine for 377 regular season KIJHL games, and 121 playoff games. Three of them are also 20 year-olds: Langelaar, Palaga and Roberts, which adds maturity.
Roberts should be a somewhat familiar name to Nitros fans. He was acquired during the 2016 offseason, but ended up playing with the Junior A Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL) last season. He is joining the Dynamiters this season to finish out his junior career because he wants to play on a winning team.
Newcomer Palaga, who played with the Chase Heat last season, was thrilled with the camp experience.
“It was a whole new experience [and] I absolutely loved it,” he said. “The arena is really what caught my attention. Personally, I like to skate the puck a lot, and the ice is a lot wider and longer [here]. I really think it could work out to my advantage.”
Not to mention, he is excited about the potential that the team has.
“I think we are looking really strong,” he added. “Our defense is looking stupid good. Every pairing we have would be a top pairing on most teams in the [KIJHL].
“We are going to have a really good run this year [and] hopefully win it all.”
Returning Nitro, Bertoia, shared similar enthusiasm after shining during camp, saying “we aren’t going to settle for anything less than a KIJHL championship.”
As for Stuart, he doesn’t want to judge the team’s future based on camp and few pre-season games. He said that the August 29 preseason roster in Creston will be an extended camp evaluation to see some players play against an opponent instead of teammates and friends.
As for the roster for the September 5 preseason game in Kimberley, he expects it to be closer to the opening day roster.
The August 29 game in Creston starts at 8:30 p.m. and the September 5th game starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Kimberley Civic Centre.
MATCH STICKS: Several players remain at tryouts with other teams: George Bertoia, Matt Davies, Nic Herringer, Brandon Langridge, Caige Sterzer and Cody Campbell.