WENATCHEE — Training camp began this week for the Wenatchee Wild Junior Hockey Team. From the camp they had in May, they’ve invited 16 forwards, 8 defensemen and two goalies.
As part of a normal training camp, they practice and get into the gym. Wild Head Coach and GM Bliss Littler said they have the players from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every night with lots of meetings and watching a lot of videos.
The new recruits are learning how the Wild does things and how they are going to live with each other. Littler said once they get the system in, then they start practicing on the ice.
Forwards Murphy Stratton, Matt Dorsey and defenseman Drake Usher are back for their third season with the Wild. Defensemen Dylan Herzog and Trevor Griebel are back for their second season, along with Brian Adams and Hunter Hastings up front.
Seven returners is about normal for the Wild.
“For us, the goal is to move kids along to school. That’s what we’ve been able to do the last four years. With that, it helps attract good, young players that want to come here, because they know they’ll move onto school and be ready when they get to college,” Littler said.
Littler said he likes the group he has. They are a group now, but they’ll learn to become a team.
“We think we’ll be a very typical Wenatchee team. We start young, very inexperienced. We start with a lot of skill,” he said. “As the season progresses, we get better. The goal is by the end of the year to be one of the best teams and give yourself a chance to win in the playoffs.”
For the new players, the trickiest thing to learn is how hard they have to compete, the amount of energy needed and the amount of preparation that goes into becoming a Junior hockey player versus a Midget player or high school player, Littler said.
Playing for the Wild is the next step in a player’s development. Since the new players come from varying backgrounds, Littler said they talk more about how they want to play, rather than structure.
“We want to give them guidelines how we want to play offensively. We’ll do more of that than try to teach them a whole bunch of new things,” he said. “We want to teach them to compete at a higher, harder level than what they’ve competed at in the past.”
The returning players play a very important role in helping to educate the new guys.
“We have a good group of returners. They are caring people who will help the new guys be right. When they’re close to making a mistake, on the ice or off the ice, you want those guys to say, ‘This is how we do things. That’s not acceptable here,’” Littler said.
The Wild welcome two new goalies into the fold, Daniel Chenard and Noah Altman. Chenard comes to the Wild with some championship experience. Littler said the 6-foot-7 Altman will learn from Chenard.
“Chenard won a national championship in Chilliwack two years ago. He’s expected to carry a bunch of the weight this year. Noah is here to learn and get better and push him. He’s here to be the man next year,” he said.
Camp lasts for two weeks. The Wild have three preseason games on the road Friday (Chillawack), Saturday (Langley) and Sunday (Coquitlam). They’ll play one final preseason game the following Friday in Surrey, B.C. Camp will conclude, then the Wild open the regular season on the road at Merritt on Sept. 6.
In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose those preseason games, Littler said.
“But, we do have to make some decisions on players. We can’t keep everybody. It’s also about pecking order. Who is going to be in your top six? Who will be in your bottom six for your forwards? Who are your top four on D and your bottom four on D?,” he said. “It’s important for those things. The outcome is not overly important. We’re looking at doing things the way we want to do them.”
The Wild open their home schedule Friday and Saturday, Sept. 13, 14 against the Vernon Vipers at the Town Toyota Center.
Littler is the veteran of many of these training camps, but it is still exciting.
“Every year, when you start, it’s a new group. It’s really exciting to watch the new group become a team,” Littler said.