Kodiaks flying through start of training camp
Team McWilliam (red) Ryan Schendel is hammered by Team Colborne’s (grey) Nicolas Regan during the Camrose Kodiaks’ training camp in Camrose on Sunday. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian
If speed kills, the Camrose Kodiaks are set to torch the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
It has become clear through the opening weekend of the Kodiaks’ training camp they are fully loaded offensively and almost all of their forwards come equipped with afterburners.
This speed was on display in the second annual Ray McIssac Cup, as Team Camrose Canadian topped Team CAM-FM 9-3 on Monday night with Colson Gengenbach scoring four goals to lead the charge
“We knew we were going to be deep, but now we see how deep we really are,” said Kodiaks head coach and general manager Boris Rybalka.
Gengenbach is a 17-year-old, five-foot-eight, 141-pound forward who showed off a rocket snapshot on the first goal that went bar down, and his wheels as he skated around the CAM-FM defender on his way to the net. The key for the young Edmontonian is that this performance did not come out of nowhere, he has shown these skills all camp.
“He was consistent the whole camp,” said Rybalka. “He comes into the (McIssac Cup) when the numbers are down and the pace is up and he continued that. … That tells us, as a staff, that he’s right there. Now we have to get him into exhibition and if he continues it, you’ve got your player.”
One of the big positives is a minor hockey system that is churning out some top talent for the Kodiaks. The eight bantam players drafted into the WHL this past spring was just the tip of the iceberg. Already with the Kodiaks from last season are the likes of Kylar Kupka and Jacob Kendall, but there is also a new crew of players knocking on the door for their shot, including Daine Milgate, Nick Mantai, Noah Hachett, Josh Harden and Brennan Davis, among others.
For Milgate it is a bit of a dream come true to potentially be suiting up for a team he grew up watching.
“It’s surreal, it’s going to be awesome to play here,” said Milgate, who last year played for the Sherwood Park Kings of the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League, but played the rest of his minor hockey in Camrose.
“I want to play here for hopefully three years … I definitely want to get an NCAA scholarship, I think it would be cool to go down in the States with the crowds and stuff.”
There is a balancing act that has to take place for Rybalka. It is important to have local content on the team, but it cannot be at the expense of the success of the franchise.
“Having that local content is great, because then people associate with those kids,” he said. “At the same time ... you could have 15 local kids on your team, but if you’re not winning, no one cares.”
Kupka is an example of a local player, however, that would star on any AJHL team. He was one of the top draft-eligible junior A players in the country last year before suffering a spleen injury that kept him out for the second half of the season.
He is motivated to prove that he is still one of the best in his age class and is worthy of a full look by pro clubs, though his main goal is to still earn an NCAA scholarship.
“I only played half the season and I had a really good start, so maybe some people could say it was a fluke,” said Kupka, who tallied who tallied 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 35 games last year.
Rybalka has been impressed with physical maturation he has seen out of his young forward.
“He’s looked great, he’s probably grown two inches and put on 15 pounds, which is huge. He looks like a man now and he’s not done growing,” said Rybalka.
The Kodiaks have had a busy off-season, including completing a pair of deals shortly before camp that meant giving up key veterans to address age ratios and a potentially weak blue line. One area Rybalka did not make any changes to was in net, as he is rolling the dice with Joey May — who played 12 games last year with the club — as the odds-on favourite to win the starting job. None of the other likely candidates — Brock Bremer, Griffin Bowerman, Landon Pavlisin and Devin Reagan — have any junior A experience of note.
“He’s the Joey we saw a couple of years ago,” said Rybalka. “He’s challenging shooters, if there’s a rebound, he’s jumping out on that rebound to cover it up. It’s that desire and attitude in the net, we’re excited we see it now. … That’s the biggest thing that we’ve seen in the last week that we didn’t see last year.”
May says he is up to the challenge, after posting a 4-5-1 record and a 3.15 goals against average and .904 save percentage in his first full season with the club.
“I had a real good off-season training, preparing my body and my mind to be a starter here in Camrose,” said May. “I want to take it and run with it, if I can play 60 games this season, that’s what I want to do. I’ll just come in with the mind set of one game at a time and just try and get the win each game.”
The Kodiaks have a busy few weeks ahead of them, starting with their exhibition tournament this week, playing the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Wednesday, the Drumheller Dragons on Thursday and the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on Friday, with all three games at noon.
On Tuesday, they host the Drayton Valley Thunder at 7 p.m. and then head to Drayton Valley on Sept. 6 for the rematch.