New season for Steel
Training camp opens Monday at Performance Arena
Saturday, Aug 20, 2011 06:00 am
Work starts Monday for the St. Albert Steel to build a winning team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“We’re really excited to get going,” said Greg Parks, the head coach and general manager of the seventh-place 26-31-3 Steel in 2010/11. “We’re pretty optimistic. The veteran guys are all going to be a year older and we’ve got some pretty promising young guys coming in, so it’s going to be a good mix.”
Listed on the 61-player training camp roster were 12 returnees — seven forwards, four defenceman and netminder Rhys Hadfield — and three players with AJHL experience obtained through trades: goalie Ty Swabb and defenceman Kyle Scaber from the Sherwood Park Crusaders and forward John Baird from the Calgary Canucks.
“When you talk to the guys coming back, they’re pretty excited. They’ve got their fingers on the pulse on what’s happening probably better than a lot of other people,” Parks said.
Hadfield (26-25-3, 3.72 GAA) will be counted on to stop the puck. The 20-year-old led all goalies in minutes played (3,032), goals against (188), shots faced (1,861) and saves (1,673) for the AJHL’s fourth-worst defensive team. He also set team records for wins, losses, minutes played, shots faced and saves in his first season in St. Albert.
“Our goaltending should probably be the best since we’ve been here with Rhys and Ty Swabb, as well as Troy Trombley and a couple of other kids that are coming to camp,” Parks said.
Back on the blueline are the Abt brothers, Jordan and Matt, plus Dane Olsen and David Randall.
“On defence, we’ve got some veteran guys, so that should be solid as well,” Parks said. “We’ve got some good young kids that are looking to push them, which is always a good thing.”
The offensive attack will be spearheaded by right-winger Taylor Fraser, the team’s MVP last season, and centre Reed Linaker.
Fraser, 20, tied for sixth in the AJHL scoring race with 67 points in 60 games. His 35 goals were three less than the league high. He also led the Steel in power play (14) and shorthanded (two) goals.
Linaker, 19, is coming off an injury-riddled campaign in which he played for Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge and registered 26 goals and 52 points in 34 games with the Steel. With career totals of 82 goals, 91 assists and 173 points in 141 games, he is poised to break Bryce Williamson’s team records for goals (102), assists (136) and points (238).
“Obviously we’ve got some pretty good forwards. The key is going to be balancing it out a little bit and adding a little bit more depth,” Parks said.
Baird, 20, is the leading candidate to skate on the top line with Fraser and Linaker. The Leduc product is joining his third AJHL team after racking up 14 goals and 10 assists in 30 games with the Canucks and he has 35 goals and 30 assists overall in 81 AJHL games. He was acquired in a trade for 19-year-old centre Derek Bacon (27-36-63, 60 GP). Bacon, a graduate of the Edge School academy in Calgary, was then dealt by the Canucks to the Okotoks Oilers.
“We’re in a situation where we could have three or maybe more in the top 20 in the league in scoring. All three of those guys can really push to lead the league in scoring as well,” Parks said.
Several prospects are expected to make major contributions.
“There are a lot of young guys that are coming in that can not only make the team but hopefully make an impact,” Parks said “We’re excited to see [defenceman] Landan Viveiros come in. [Defenceman] Jacob Lavoie is a kid coming out of the 15-year-old league in St. Albert. He’s going to have a shot for sure. [Forward] Cole Linaker is another one. He is Reed’s brother and is a real solid player.”
Behind the bench, Wes Werhun and Donovan Sugiyama have come on board as assistant coaches. They have extensive backgrounds with the St. Albert Raiders Hockey Club. Werhun coached the St. Albert Crusaders to the midget AA provincial championship in 2009 as the tournament’s host team. His last coaching stint was with the junior B St. Albert Merchants. Sugiyama guided the St. Albert Blues to the 2011 midget AA provincial final and a fifth and deciding game in the Northern Alberta Midget AA Hockey League final.
“They’re going to be great assets to the team. They have a very solid knowledge of the local players here, and not just the high-end players, because everyone knows them. Some kids have maybe slipped through the cracks a little bit and are playing AA, where a lot of AJ teams don’t focus on as much. They’re going to have a real good insight on those players and what they bring to the table, so we’re excited about that,” Parks said.
Player auditions get underway Monday at 11 a.m. at Performance Arena. The Steel have two ice slots per day as three teams rotate between practices and intrasquad games. The training camp schedule is online at www.steelhockey.ca.
The first of eight exhibition games is Friday against the Sherwood Park Crusaders at 5 p.m. at Performance.
“Probably 95 per cent of the guys will be around for that first weekend. We play four games in three days. Saturday, we have two games [in Sherwood Park] so we need to keep lots of bodies for that. After that weekend, we’ll start cutting down,” Parks said.
ICE CHIPS: The Steel skate into their fifth AJHL season Sept. 9 in Olds. Their home opener is Sept. 16 against the Crusaders at 7 p.m.
Fraser needs five games to surpass Williamson’s team record for most games played. In 175 games with the Steel, the former midget AAA St. Albert Raider scored 57 goals and added 58 assists.