Opening day is a ways off, but Oceanside’s Save-On-Foods Generals started the process of putting a team together for the 2013/2014 VIJHL season in earnest last Saturday with the club’s annual spring prospects camp.
“I thought it went really, really well,” Gens’ returning head coach and GM Brent Demerais said after, pointing to the team effort of “the executive, the coaches, our scouts… it was really well organized, and we saw a lot of young talent.”
About 50 skaters, including 10 goalies, turned out for this year’s installment, divided into a morning skills and drills and an up tempo inter-squad game in the afternoon.
As expected, the players brought their work boots to the rink Saturday, as they hit the ice vying for a spot on the team.
From that camp Demerais said he expects at least 20 players, plus two others that couldn’t make it because of graduation, will be invited to the Generals’ main camp in August.
“There were a few surprises out there,” he said when asked if any of the young hopefuls stood out. “There were some 15 and 16 years olds, a couple local guys, that were really impressive.”
A productive camp on many fronts, the Generals have officially carded five new players — four forwards and a defence man — based on their performance at the prospects camp, with a couple more being considered.
Sixteen-year-old local goalie Liam Giroux, younger brother of former Gens’ starter Kiefer Giroux, was in the mix on Saturday, and looked sharp between the pipes.
“He’s good,” said Demerais.
The Generals will have around six goalies at their main camp vying for a spot on the team.
In the meantime, hockey never sleeps.
“Theres a little bit of a break, but not really, we’re still looking for players, making deals, making trades,” said Demerais, who will also be helping out at the Nanaimo Clippers upcoming main camp.
WATCHING ON from behind the end glass and making notes Sunday was Scott Morgan, a scout for the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.
“Basically what I do is I come and look at the kids that have come through our camp, and other Island kids that I’ve seen in the past; just check’n on how their development’s coming along,” he said, and made the point “a lot of times there’s kids that have taken big leaps (since the year before), so it’s good to watch the process. It’s a long process, so it’s a matter of keeping an eye on them.”
Morgan, from Port Alberni, is friends with Gens’ bench boss Brent Demerais and assistant coach Rob Gaudreault.
“It’s not like it used to be with Jr. B hockey where (the VIJHL) used to be a rough and tumble league,” he said when the subject shifted to kids looking to use the Island’s Jr. B league as stepping stone, confirming that “it’s really come along to the point where it’s about developing talent, so it is a good league to keep an eye on, along with Major Midget, which is another one of our focuses.”
Both sessions Saturday and especially the afternoon game which had plenty of fast-paced end to end action with a bit of an edge to it.
The opportunity to parlay hockey into a post secondary education aside, there are, Morgan said, “lots of kids that have moved up,” and pointed the likes of two B.C. boys who cut their teeth in Jr. B and are now lacing up in the NHL — 6’4” D-man and Sicamous native Shea Weber, 27, started his Jr. Hockey career in the Kootenay’s KIJHL, was called up to the Rockets, went on to play for Team Canada, and is now with the Nashville Predators.
Island boy Jamie Benn, 23, a 6’2” centre, started out with the VIJHL’s Peninsula Panthers, played two seasons with the Vancouver Grizzlies of the BCHL and two with the Rockets, before signing with the Dallas Stars.
“Kids are developing all the time, so it’s really never too late for them to take that next step.
“Jr. B can definitely be a stepping stone,” he said, adding “the big thing here is that some kids will play here (Jr. B) their whole career, and that’s fine, that’s just the way it is, but not every one — other kids will have a chance to move up, it’s all about pushing your game as far as you can take it,” he said.