The transformation of the St. Albert Tire Warehouse Raiders from sandpaper to snipers is underway.
The 20-man roster was finalized after Wednesday’s exhibition match and the goal scorers outnumber the grinders on the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League team.
“We’ll be more offensive and more dynamic,” said Mitch Reidy, a returning netminder. “Teams will have to adjust to us more than us having to adjust to them this year.”
The 2016/17 Raiders were plus-six in goals for/against and only two players achieved double-digit goal totals. The top lamp-lighter was Garrett Clegg with 20 goals.
“Last year we got pucks deep and forechecked hard. We were just a gritty team,” said defenceman Aidan West. “This year we’ll be more skilled and we’ll put up more points.
“We’re not going to be the most physical team in the league but definitely we’ll be a quick team.”
Six players remain from the 16-14-4 Raiders, second-place finishers in the north division. West and Reidy are joined by Mason Rezewski on defence and Brady Nicholas, Eddie Gallagher and Xavier Halterman up front as holdovers from the north semifinalists that lost the fifth and deciding game in the series to the third-place Leduc Oil Kings (14-15-5) in St. Albert. Leduc went on to win the league championship while going 11-3 overall in the playoffs and two of the losses were 4-3 in overtime and 3-2 against the Raiders.
“We’ll definitely do way better than last year,” West said.
Making the jump from the midget 15 St. Albert Flyers is defenceman Kyle Fulton, forwards Cameron Aucoin, Erik Boers, Stuart Dovey, Carson Henry and Blake Sydlowski and netminder Evan Fradette.
Sydlowski was selected the Alberta Minor Midget AAA Hockey League’s most valuable player after finishing third overall in points with 69 while scoring 26 goals in 37 games.
Fradette (15-2, 1.18 GAA) posted six shutouts and .947 save percentage as the co-recipient of the league’s top goaltender awarded with Flyers’ teammate Ryley Osland.
The Flyers were the No. 1 AMMHL team at 32-4-1 and at provincials won bronze.
“Obviously the Flyers had a good team last year and a lot of those guys are here,” Reidy said. “We’ve also got some guys from midget AA (defenceman Zach Giacobbo of the St. Albert Crusaders and forward Zach Carlson of the St. Albert Blues) who were really good down there that stepped up for this year.”
The only bantam AAA player to crack the lineup is forward Austin Spiridakis of the St. Albert Gregg Distributors Sabres.
The Flyers completed the preseason with a record of 3-2 after the 3-1 setback against the Sherwood Park Kings on Wednesday at Akinsdale Arena.
“It’s exciting to get the season finally started. Training camp has been pretty long so it’s good to get going,” Reidy said.
The Raiders are spending this weekend at CFB Edmonton for a series of practices, video sessions, system walk-throughs, dryland training and a ton of team building sessions. The players are staying in the barracks and eating in the mess hall. A pin ceremony and family barbecue will wrap up the team bonding event.
“It’s good when you’re sleeping together and living together for the weekend. You feel a lot closer,” said Reidy, 17.
The second-year Raider is coming off a 5-6-2 season (3.41 GAA, .898 save percentage) as the back-up to Chris Curr (11-8-2, 2.53 GAA, .924 save percentage, three shutouts).
“Last year wasn’t the best. I didn’t get to play a lot but we had a good goalie,” said the Grade 12 Bellerose Composite High School student. “This year I’m just excited to be a leader and hopefully do whatever the team needs.”
League play starts next weekend with games Saturday against the Flyers at 1 p.m. in Sherwood Park and Sunday against the visiting Grande Peace Storm at 1:15 p.m.
The home opener is also the St. Albert Food Bank game. Fans are encouraged to drop off non-perishable food items and donation boxes will be in the lobby of the Akinsdale rink.
“We’re really excited,” said West, of the Raiders rolling into action. “Our overall goal is to win the Telus Cup obviously.”
West, 16, will be shooting for his first goal as a Raider after collecting three assists in 30 games and another three helpers in the playoffs. His 79 penalty minutes in the regular season were a team high.
“As a first year I guess I was put on the team to hit and be physical,” said the Grade 11 St. Albert Catholic High School student.