The Icemen are back on the ice in preparation for the upcoming Capital Junior Hockey League season, looking to improve on last years 30-point jump in the standings
The high-pitched squeal of a blowing whistle greets those who enter the front doors of the Wetaskiwin Civic Centre on this particular Tuesday evening in mid August.
A coach can clearly be heard yelling out instructions.
And there is that constant scraping sound as hockey blades push off against the ice surface.
Yes, it is officially hockey season in Central Alberta.
The Wetaskiwin Icemen were the first team in the Capital Junior Hockey League to take to the ice when players got into uniform for the first time Aug. 16.
Head coach Rick Gregory, who engineered a 30-point improvement with an Icemen team that had not seen playoff action in five years, had nearly 40 players skating through drills on Day 1 of training camp.
Near the end of the workout, he barked out information that undoubtedly came as an unwelcome surprise, at least for his players.
Scrimmage was halted, and the players began skating lines.
Back and forth went the players, some showing the lingering effects of a summer filled with more beach time than hockey time.
Gregory had his troops in skating mode for a good 15 minutes.
After all, it is a training camp, and, conditioning camp, and Gregory wants his players to be as fit as possible when the CJHL regular season begins in one month.
So, what type of season might it be for the Icemen, who are celebrating their 20th season in the Capital Junior Hockey League in 2011-2012?
The team certainly expects to compete for a playoff position, given its success one year ago.
After making it into the post season for the first time in five years in the final week of the regular season, the Icemen stunned Sherwood Park in the opening round thanks to a thrilling overtime goal by Dylan MacKay in game three of the series, then received another OT marker from MacKay in Game 2 of the second round, pushing Beaumont to a fifth and deciding game in their series before finally succumbing to the eventual league champions.
MacKay is back in Wetaskiwin, and will be one of the players Gregory will count on for offence in the upcoming season.
Gregory will return three of his top four scoring forwards, with Brian MacDonald (10 goals, 29 points), Travis Gano (13 goals, 26 points), Michael MacDonald (11 goals, 22 points) and Jordan Howe (seven goals, 19 points) all back in an Icemen uniform.
Rit Spezzano, a speedy forward from Bridgeport, Conn. has also decided to brave another prairie winter. Two more veterans, Mick Bronson, and Micheal Chorneyko, who is expected to be in camp this week, are also returning to the Icemen.
I think there is a good assortment of veterans. There are quite a few guys vying for jobs straight out of midget in Wetaskiwin and Camrose, a few guys who can step in right now. Once Junior A teams make their cuts, a lot more players could become available.
-Craig Podritske Director of Player Personnel for the Icemen
On defence, Zach Pezderic will be an important player on the Wetaskiwin blueline. He will be a 21-year- old, and as one of the captains last year, is expected to provide leadership to some of Wetaskiwins younger players.
Three other local boys, Steven Walker, Corey Bowie and Brandon Wark, will also be back in the line-up for the Icemen. All three are all going to be 19 year olds, and are still young, allowing the group to grow together.
An addition to the blueline is Kevin Liner, a 6-2, 190-pound defenseman who played with Olds of the Alberta Junior Hockey League last year.
In goal, last years playoff MVP, Marcus Johnson, has graduated, along with defenceman and captain Cameron Dyck, and forward KC Lorentz.
Returning netminder Quinton Bell is slated to take over in goal.
Wetaskiwin-born Riley Bennefield, who tied for the team scoring lead, and for the MVP award, is not expected back. Bennefield totalled 29 points in 26 league games, and was the lone Icemen player to earn more than a point a game. He is at Portlands Western Hockey League camp at the moment.
But there is the potential for another Bennefield to be skating with the Icemen this season.
I think Rileys brother, DJ Bennefield, has been a nice surprise. A couple of other local boys, Dallas Graham and Brett Halter, have also impressed so far. We are waiting for players to come back. If they make it in Junior A, great for them. If not, it is to our benefit.
On-ice sessions continue for the Icemen Aug. 24 and 25 at 8:15 p.m., and Aug. 27 at 10 a.m. at the Wetaskiwin Civic Centre.
The Icemen, who are celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2011-2012, will host the Second Annual Jim Pelehos Golf Tournament, Alumni Hockey games and season kick-off party the weekend of Sept. 9 and 10. Those interested in golfing can sign up at Wetaskiwin Agencies, Dyck Insurance or Jaspers Studio in Wetaskiwin. Entry fee for the golf tournament is $100. Registration is at 9 a.m., with a 10 a.m. shotgun start.
The Icemen will then host their alumni at the Wetaskiwin Civic Centre Sept. 10, with games at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.