When it comes to playing hockey at the U18AAA level, the bottom line for Head Coach Chris Schmidt is this; “How bad do they want to be a hockey player?” Entering his fifth year as coach of the team, Schmidt noted that while it would have been nice to play some exhibition games, he, and Assistant Coach, Jordan McTaggart, did their homework as far as player selection goes. Familiarity with players in the GPAC system, talking to coaches from last season, as well as being aware of which players put in the work during the off-season, all adds up to a selection process that Schmidt is comfortable with heading into the season. To play hockey at this level there are “a lot of sacrifices players have to make” said Schmidt, also noting that with the abundance of distractions for hockey players at this age Schmidt said that it is noticeable which players made the commitment to spend the summer training to give themselves the best opportunity to compete for a spot on the team. “You can start to see the separation” stated Schmidt. Heading into their first league games against the always strong St. Albert Raiders, the Coach is happy with what he has seen so far. The players have demonstrated an excellent effort and attitude and he has noticed that they all want to learn and get better. He added that the depth of the team will be a strength, as will the experience of the 7 returning players from last year’s squad. “All of our left-side defenseman are veterans and they will help the right side adapt to the league. It’s a bit of a jump for everyone, the four 15 year-olds, as well as those who played U16 and AA last year. The attitude of the players will definitely help them adapt to the pace of the league.” Schmidt noted that the team has “sufficient skill” adding that “for us to compete, each player will have to be really good every game and mentally dialed in to compete.” With 3 age-eligible players still away at Junior A camps, Schmidt said he has left flexibility in his roster. “I hope they all make it, because every player wants to play at the highest level possible.” The Head Coach is aware that their first three games are against the Raiders, a team that he feels could have won the championship last season if not for the pause due to COVID. “They are very strong” said Schmidt. “There won’t be any games this season where we will be able to take the night off”. The AAA Storm open up at home on a rare Wednesday night game on October 14th, then travel to St. Albert three days later for a weekend set against the Raiders.
Head Coach Myles Girard and Assistant Fraser Berg have switched roles this season. Last year Berg was at the helm and Girard took the role of Assistant Coach. Interestingly, Girard states that the biggest adjustment of being a Head Coach is not on-ice, but the logistical aspect of being the head man. “Answering lots of emails, texts, dress-code, equipment, travel are all the biggest change”, Girard said, while also noting the on-ice adjustment of being the Head Coach has gone very smooth. “I was lucky that previous head coaches, like Fraser, have allowed me to run practices and systems so I’m used to that part”, noted Girard. With 3 veteran players from last year’s team, and most of the others from U16AAA and U16AA, Girard feels that the team will have to compete by committee and continue to be the hard-working group he has witnessed in practice. The coaches have yet to identify player roles and recognize which players work well within different situations, but Girard said that area of the game will develop shortly, as they continue to reinforce positive habits, details and player expectations in practice. The coach indicated he is hoping to have mid - October exhibition games so the coaches can further assess skill sets and the best fit for players in terms of roles, and line combinations. “We’re excited to see the growth of the team and how they will gel as the season progresses”, said Girard again stressing that the team will need every player to fill an important role as they strive to succeed by committee. The team does not have an easy start as they begin on the road in Fort McMurray on Nov 7 & 8, then host the same Oil Barons the following weekend. Their next four games are against the Peace River Royals starting Dec. 5 in Peace River.
Season opener - Oct 31 in Spruce Grove
With 6 of their first 9 games scheduled within the friendly confines of the Coca-Cola Centre, U16AAA Head Coach Brett Stephenson is extremely happy to have a favorable pre-Christmas schedule. Truth be told, he is just happy that there is going to be a season to play in. “Overall, everyone is just happy to be playing hockey at all, we are positive and happy to get going” said the second-year U16 coach. Stephenson is also thrilled with the group of young men he, and Assistant Coach Ben Radke, have assembled. “We have a deep and talented team, with good overall skill including skating and puck skills” added the bench boss. With a few weeks to go before their Oct. 31 season opener, Stephenson plans to continue to use the practice time to work on pace, tempo and meeting expectations, as well as starting to work on some tactics and special team drills. One advantage of the U16 league (AEHL) is that all players are 2005 born and Stephenson stressed that allows “all players to figure out who they are no matter what level they played last year.” Stephenson and Radke have expressed that every player has an important role on the team, and that will be reinforced by rotating leadership roles throughout the season. “Everyone will wear a letter over the course of the year, and have the opportunity to lead warm-up, communicate with officials and be exposed to being a leader on the team” stated the Head Coach. Stephenson reiterated that he is happy with the compete level of his players and looks forward to introducing system play such as defensive awareness, being on the right side of the puck and “taking care of our end of the ice.” “It’s a good group of players and they are excited to get playing” said Stephenson. The U16AAA Storm open the season on the road on Oct 31 versus the Parkland PAC Saints, then return home the following weekend, Nov. 7 & 8 for the second portion of the home and home against the Saints.
Season opener - Nov 7 vs. Strathcona Warriors at County Sportsplex
Last season, their first in the league, the U16AA team had the disadvantage of not playing a game at home. This season, it will be a more balanced schedule with the privilege of playing home games as well. With that in mind, both the coaches and the players are eager to start playing games. “The lack of games is a bit tough”, said Head Coach Mike Brown. “It’s a bit tough to evaluate players and how things are looking without playing games”. Brown and Assistant Coach Sam Mitchell are happy to be familiar with most of the team, noting that 16 of the players have played at the U15AA level previously. When asked to describe his team, Brown was enthusiastic about several aspects. “They are a hard working group, with a solid attitude and we’ll continue to work on individual skill development, lots of puck touches, puck protection and details of the game” said Brown. “We’ll see a lot more when we get into the games”. The coach indicated that the team will create offense and score goals “by committee”. Brown is hoping to get a first-hand look at his team in action crossing his fingers for a couple of exhibition games before their season opening weekend on Nov 7 & 8 when they host the Strathcona Warriors. They then board the bus the following weekend to play a 2 game set against the same team in Ardrossan.
Season opener - Oct 16 in Spruce Grove
With 2 returning AAA players and 13 players who played AA last year, Head Coach Ryan Allen describes his squad as “more of a mature team (with) speed and skill.” Coach Allen, along with Assistant Coach Paul Therrien, set out to build the team around the three facets of speed, skill and character and from what he’s seen so far, Coach Allen is very pleased. “We like all three positions (forwards, defense and goaltending), The players are engaged and receptive and we are working on things in practice in terms of drills, skills and progressions that we don’t normally get to until November.” Allen noted that the team will use the next few practices to continue to work on skills and individual tactics, as well as a “team-first” mentality. With their first two games scheduled for October 16 & 17 in Spruce Grove against the Parkland PAC Saints. Allen says the team is working on always “being in the battle” and competing hard. After that opening weekend, the team plays 7 more games before the Christmas break, with four of those being at home. Coach Allen says the slight delay in starting the season has allowed the team to utilize more practice time to work on skills and develop good practice habits. That being said, Allen reiterated “the boys are looking forward to playing games, everyone wants to play.” The 15AAA Storm home opener is scheduled for October 24 against the same PAC Saints.
Season opener - Oct 31 vs. Peace River at the County Sportsplex
“Dynamic and exciting” is how Head Coach Trevor Barclay describes his Dreger Racing Team U15AA Storm squad. The Coach is excited to get the season rolling on Oct 31 when they are scheduled to host the Peace River Royals. Until then, Barclay and Assistant Coach Nick Cross will take advantage of practice time to work on creating good habits and attention to detail, and to reinforce skills and tactics through high-tempo drills. With 7 second-year players and 12 first-years, Barclay feels the coaching staff can take advantage of the significant practice time before their first game at the end of the month. “We have an awesome group of kids and everyone wants to be there. We’re a fast team with good top-to-bottom skill and the players are eager to learn". Barclay noted a couple of strengths heading into the season - a solid defensive core and good goaltending. One of the challenges of practicing under COVID rules is the lack of dressing room space for the players and coaches. “We are not able to show drills pre-ice in the dressing room in order to minimize board time on the ice”, Barclay stated. “So I video parts of the practices and put some drills in a drop box for the boys to review. It saves us board time on the ice” While Barclay mentioned that exhibition games are a possibility, he and Coach Cross would be fine with continuing to reinforce good habits and practice details over the next few weeks in preparation for the season opener at the end of the month.
Season opener - Oct 31 in Fort McMurray
Head Coach Kyle Weegar stresses that a hockey season is more of a journey than a win-loss record. “It’s a process, not a destination” stated the Coach, “we are focusing on growing each game, with good habits and details in our game” In his 5th year as a GPAC Head Coach, Weegar; along with assistant Kyle Jahraus, have spent the last few weeks building foundations by working on individual skill development, as well as individual tactics in preparation for systems play that follows later on. “The players have a great work ethic and a high willingness to learn. They are extremely coachable” Coach Weegar said of his team that is comprised of 2 returning players who played AA last season as well as 6 players who made the jump from PeeWee, while the rest of the team played Bantam hockey last season. The Head Coach is hoping for at least one exhibition game before the team opens their regular season in Fort McMurray at the end of the month. “It would be nice to get an idea of a game feel for both the players and the coaches. It would give us a sense of where we stand and fill in some gaps on what we have to work on” said Weegar. While starting the season with such a long road trip is not ideal, Coach Weegar notes that the long bus trip will be good for team building and give the players a chance to be together off the ice. Until then, the coaches will be spending the next few weeks of practice working towards game application concepts and continuing with skill development. The U15AA Higson Dental Group home opener is scheduled for Nov 7 & 8 when the Oil Barons visit.