There is still a lot of work to do, but slowly the pieces are coming together for the Prince Albert Mintos.
When training camp started just under a month ago, there were more than 70 players looking to play for the perennial Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League contender.
Rookie head coach Ken Morrison and his assistants Brad Bergen and Todd Becker, along with the scouting staff, whittled that number down to 36 heading into their first pre-season game on Tuesday in Saskatoon (5-3 loss to the Blazers) and when they play their first pre-season match on home-ice tonight against the Saskatoon Contacts, that number should be lower yet.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre in a process of paring down as we go,‚ÄĚ says Morrison, who took over the helm from Tim Leonard in the spring when the long-time coach accepted an assistant coaching position with the Western Hockey League‚Äôs Prince Albert Raiders. ‚ÄúIt depends on how they do in games ‚Äď if they move or not.‚ÄĚ
Complicating the decision-making process was the waiting game on whether some of the veterans eligible to return to the team would indeed be back in Prince Albert and the news certainly appears to be good on that front.
Bryton Sayers is back after a tryout with the Lethbridge Hurricanes as are Cody Young (Kindersley Klippers), Tanner Burghardt (Regina Pats), Adam Osczevski (Prince Albert Raiders and Estevan Bruins) and Maxim Powiada. Defenseman Jordan Harris is also back in Prince Albert after a tryout with the WHL‚Äôs Prince George Cougars, but Morrison wasn‚Äôt sure what his plans were for the upcoming season.
The only player still eligible to return is forward Miles Warkentine, but he remains in the camp of the WHL‚Äôs Moose Jaw Warriors and it is unclear if he will crack that roster although he is being given every chance to do so.
Prince Albert, which received more good news on the weekend when it was announced the Mintos will host the 2014 Telus Cup western regional qualifying tournament, will have some big shoes to fill as leading scorers Brett Njaa, Matt Anholt and Adam Fauchoux are among the players that have moved on due to graduation. The Mintos also lost a pair of leaders on the blueline in Michael Statchuk and Luc Lemire so there will be a battle to fill those positions as well.
Expected to play a more prominent role in the offence this year are the Duret brothers ‚Äď Jason and Ryan ‚Äď along with Osczevski, who had a very strong camp with the Raiders before being released. Two local newcomers to watch out for are Matthew Campese and Lochlan Morrison, who both played last year with the bantam Venice House Raiders and were emergency call-ups during the playoffs when the Mintos suffered numerous injuries.
‚ÄúIf we do get all these players back then obviously it gives the team more experience,‚ÄĚ says Morrison. ‚ÄúI think it makes the decisions a lot harder (getting them back). If we get both Sayer and Harris back, then we have to let two (defensemen) go.‚ÄĚ
More decisions will be made following tonight‚Äôs game and even more will be made after the Mintos go to Tisdale for a contest on Saturday against the Trojans. Prince Albert has a total of eight pre-season games to watch the players so there is no rush to make any moves.
The Mintos have challenged for the league championship for several years now and it certainly looks like they will be ready to be a threat again this year when the season does start on Sept. 29.