A mixture of new and familiar faces were on the ice at the Coliseum as the Prince George Spruce Kings opened training camp on the weekend.
The Spruce Kings had four goaltenders, 13 defencemen and 20 forwards battling for a position on the team's 2013-14 B.C. Hockey League roster. There were nine players, six forwards and three defenceman, from last season's team among the players battling for a spot.
Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas said from the looks of things at camp the team is going to have more depth in the upcoming season and should be faster and a little bit bigger, but he took the cautious route when it came to predicting how the team would fare overall.
"I'm sure most of the teams sitting there choosing their players are thinking they're going to be a good team," said Dupas. "I think we're going to be OK. There's going to be a bunch of new guys and we're probably going to be a bit younger also. It's going to be a work in progress but I think we're going to be OK."
Last season, the Spruce Kings finished third in the Mainland Division with a 25-22-1-8 record and were ousted from the playoffs in the first round losing in five games to the Chilliwack Chiefs (33-23-1-1). The Chiefs were swept in the division final in four games by the Surrey Eagles, who went on to win the BCHL championship and finish second at the 2013 RBC Cup.
Returnees from last year's team include the speedy forward line of Jeremiah Luedtke, Chad Staley and Justin Rai; Sean Landrey, Bryant Christian and Jake LeBrun; and defencemen Skylar Pacheco, Mitch Eden and Karan Toor. Also back is Braiden Epp who finished the season and signed with the Spruce Kings after the BCMML Cariboo Cougars were knocked out of the playoffs.
Signed newcomers include 20-year-old goalie Alex Murray and 18-year-old goalie Jesse Jenks, defencemen Caleb Thompson and Danny Kiraly and forward Brent Lashuk.
Dupas said he was pleasantly surprised with to talent he saw among the players at the camp.
"Usually when you get a bunch of new faces there's some disappointment, you're expecting certain things out of certain people, but we're pretty much getting what we expected out of all these guys," said Dupas.
One thing, Dupas said he wants on this years team is a Prince George flavour especially on the forward lines. Among the forwards competing for jobs are former Prince George Midget Tier 1 players Brogan O'Brien, Riley Hawes and Derek Bulmer and Donovan Law who played with the Cariboo Cougars last year.
Hawes and Bulmer were the captain and assistant captain with the Tier 1 Cougars, respectively, and Dupas was impressed with how much both of them have improved since last year. Dupas said he was impressed with how Bulmer - younger brother of Minnesota Wild prospect Brett Bulmer - handles the puck and with the gritty style he plays.
As for Hawes, Dupas said he's one of the most improved players to come along in the three years he's coached the Spruce Kings.
"He's bigger," said Dupas about the six-foot-three, 190-pound Hawes. "He's stronger and his stride is much better. He's a faster version of what he was before. He always had good hands and been able to finish and he's able and willing to go to the blue paint and finish checks. With his size he could be pushing here."
Dupas said the 18-year-old has added pressure to prove himself because his dad is Spruce Kings general manager Mike Hawes.
"It is added pressure because he has to be better than the next guy, because if he's tied or if maybe somebody seems a little bit better and he makes the team then there's going to be people talking and we don't want that and he doesn't want that," said Dupas. "If he's on this team it's because he's earned a spot and he's better than the next guy."
Hawes said he can keep up with the pace of the junior A game better this season and credits his Tier 1 coach, and Spruce Kings assistant coach, Jason Garneau with his improvement.
"He helped me grow quite a bit as a player and if it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't be here right now," said Hawes.
He added he's up for the challenge of proving he belongs on the Spruce Kings team on his own merit.
"I've been working hard and doing the things I need to do to make the team," said Hawes. "If I'm not good enough to make the team I'm sure I'm not going to make it."
The Spruce Kings have two exhibition road games in 100 Mile House against the Vernon Vipers before travelling to Merritt for a game with the Centennials, before opening the season the weekend of Sept. 6-8 in Chilliwack at the BCHL Showcase.
* Justin Rai and Brent Lashuk suffered injuries in practice and weren't in the lineup for the final two intra-squad games or Sunday's exhibition game with Merritt.