By Sean Rooney on April 11, 2018.
Hockey sticks were nowhere to be seen at the Kinplex, replaced en masse by lacrosse sticks.
Kids passed back and forth outside the front door, practices rotated players from multiple teams on and off the concrete playing surfaces inside and everybody seemed ready for a new season to begin.
For the junior B Sun Devils, that means this weekend, as they’ll head to Calgary to play the Axemen and Sabrecats.
“I’m so ready to play this weekend,” said second-year Devils player Daniel Drefs. “You’ve got to give it your all, you can’t hold back.”
Drefs is maybe a little more amped up than some of his teammates because he only played the first half of last season. An in-game collision resulted in a broken collarbone, ending Drefs’ campaign early.
The Sun Devils have only had a couple weeks of practice and returning head coach Chris Loran admits their cardio will be a priority as they get into game shape, but there’s a sense of optimism the squad can finish better than last year’s 6-12 record.
“Our goal would be to improve on last year, make the playoffs and go a little further,” said Loran. “I don’t know if we’ve had quite the pre-season we had last year; we were able to get a little more cardio in, get a little more game ready.
“It’ll come, it’ll come fast and they’ll recognize pretty quickly where we need to improve.”
There are a couple factors playing in their favour, but one that doesn’t. They’ve only got 15 players at the moment, down from about two dozen a year ago. Loran blames a busier oilpatch, so really it’s a good news situation if you look at the bigger picture.
Continuing on the glass-is-half-full analogy, everyone will get lots of playing time, so if they’re a talented bunch a short bench could work in their favour.
“We are still a young team like we were last year, but we have the same main core and the same systems,” said Damon Phillips, the presumed captain and oldest player on the team at 20 years young. “So hopefully we should pick up where we ended off last year, we were going uphill.”
Also on the plus side, the Lethbridge Barracudas — who went unbeaten in the Tier 2 division last year —have moved up to Tier 1 while a couple other Tier 3 clubs have ranked up to fill the void.
“We’re going to be a fast team this year,” added Phillips, a point-per-game player last season. “We don’t have a ton of size but we’ll still be strong defensively, and hopefully we’ll get our passing up and make sure it’s ready for game time.”
Kinplex renovations kept the Sun Devils out of their home arena to start the 2017 season. No such issue this year is a relief. Medicine Hat’s home opener is Saturday, April 21 when they play the Olds Stinger (6:30 p.m., Kinplex).
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