By RYAN MCCRACKEN on September 16, 2020.
Medicine Hat Cubs head coach and general manager Randy Wong is feeling optimistic about his first season behind the bench of the local junior B hockey club.
While there are still plenty of spinning plates ahead of a potential Heritage Junior Hockey League season, Wong says he found a few diamonds in the rough at the team’s rookie camp Saturday, which should make for some strong competition at main camp in October.
“I think there were some pleasant surprises,” said Wong. “When you host those camps, you never know what you’ll get. You have an expectation of some guys doing what they should do, and you hope for a couple diamonds in the rough. I think we found a couple, so all in all it was a success.”
Wong says Connor Miller, Cam Hall and Caleb Irvine – all of whom played under Wong with the Medicine Hat Hounds this season – showed well at the rookie camp and have committed to the team, while lesser-known faces, like Taber defenceman Carson Cleland, stood out among the 32 in attendance to earn a prominent spot on the radar.
“It was a good day. It was very positive and we’re more optimistic about the youth of the team, so that looks bright,” said Wong, who joined the team last month. “Some of us just got involved pretty recently, but we got the camp underway and Troy (Sandau, president) did a good job of recruiting for it.”
While former captain Tavin Stadnicki won’t be making his impact on the ice this season, the Cubs have opted to bring him behind the bench to serve as an assistant coach. Wong says Stadnicki’s close relationship with the players will be an asset.
“Captain of the Cubs last year and I coached him in midget AA so I already know his character from when I had him there,” said Wong. “He knows how to lead a team as a player, and we felt that his maturity was there and we could add him as a coach. I like having a guy in place that has maybe a closer relationship between the coaches and players than myself. Tavin can kind of be that middle guy, the guy the players maybe go to.”
Wong says there remains plenty to be decided in regard to the roster, as he’s still waiting on confirmation from a number of returning players. But such is the nature of the beast in junior B hockey.
“That’s the way this league operates; you just don’t know what you’ll get due to guys going to work, guys going to school. We hope those guys return, so we’re still waiting on that,” he said. “But moving forward, we’re happy with the group that we have, and if we’re a little bit younger because of those guys maybe not coming back, we’re certainly more than excited about working with those guys.”
The Cubs were slated to host the 2020 Hockey Alberta Provincial Championships before COVID-19 prompted the cancellation of the season. While he doesn’t expect provincials to return this year, Wong says he is building with a potential host role in mind.
“From everything we’ve heard, everybody is kind of gearing toward next year,” he said. “Really this year is a developmental year and you get whatever games you can get and keep the guys motivated and competitive in the hopes that when provincials return… It sounds like Hockey Alberta is going to award those teams that were going to host, they’re going to give it back to those teams.”
The HJHL is aiming to open a 24-game schedule on Oct. 28. Wong says the current plan would be to put the Cubs into either a three-team cohort with the Lomond Lakers and Coaldale Copperheads, or a five-team cohort that would include the Okotoks Bisons and the Strathmore Wheatland Kings.
For the time being, Wong says main camp is set to kick off Oct. 2 with a pair of exhibition games against the Copperheads to follow on Oct. 15 and 16.