The Norman Northstars welcomed 10 new players to their ranks following the Aug. 28 inter-squad game, which concluded training camp and saw the blue team pulling off a 7-6 win.
Joining the roster are four players from Thompson, three from Flin Flon and one each from The Pas, Creighton and Cross Lake.
Steven Goran, Brady Laycock, Jordan Valentino and goaltender Aaron Vallance maek up the Thompson contingent, while Teagan and Tavish Quinn and Aaron Beauchamp are new players from Flin Flon. Also making the squad were Creighton's Zach Garrett, Rich Frechette from The Pas and Jameson Scott of Cross Lake.
"Some of the new faces and standouts from the weekend were definitely Zachary Garrett, a 17-year-old from Creighton who had success playing in Notre Dame last season," said Northstars head coach Dustin Levesque. "Both Quinn boys looked good after a year of AAA experience with Parkland and Steven Goran looked strong after a year of developing with the AA and minor AAA program. And Jameson Scott from Cross Lake really turned some heads out there with some significant improvements from last year's tryouts."
Returning players from last year's squads include forwards Drake Bodie and Tanner Hepp, along with Tyrel Charlton, who played 30 games for the team last season, all of whom are from Thompson. Other returning forwards include Evan Akkerman of Flin Flon, Brendan Barron of Creighton, Sask., Cole Doak from The Pas, Eddie Bayer of Wabowden, who led the team in goals last season, OCN's Camacho Lathlin and Lodie Ipeelie of Iqaluit, Nunavut.
On defence, the Northstars welcome back Flin Flon's Boyd Langan, Cory Reid from The Pas and Thompson's Bruce Highway, while Thompson goaltender Justin Paulic has also secured a spot.
Newcomers and returnees will have big shoes to fill as the squad has bid goodbye to five of its top six scorers from last season, including Justin Valentino, who finished second in the league with 65 points (23G, 42A) and Manitoba midget AAA's highest-scoring defenceman Dylan Hykawy, who had 52 points (15G, 37A). Also graduating were Rylan Veitch, who finished third in team scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists in 39 games, and Ryan Templeton, who picked up 10 goals and 11 assists. Robert Briem, who had 18 goals and 16 assists as a Northstars rookie last season, is not back this year. The highest-scoring player to return from last year's squad is Bayer, who was fourth in Northstars' scoring with 25 goals and 12 assists in his rookie season. His 37 points were as many as the next highest-scoring returnees - Bodie and Reid - had combined.
"We have a lot of experience up front now with the amount of games all of the 15-year-olds ended up playing last year," says Levesque. "That experience has proven to have major impact for returning players' confidence and team contribution over the years. I'm expecting big things from our returning guys and I have a feeling we'll all be quite surprised by the new players joining the team."
The back end sees significant turnover, as Kane McKee and Cole McKay also graduated, leaving half the blueline positions to be filled by 15-year-olds Beauchamp, Frechette and Valentino.
With 96 players to choose from - including five away at junior camps - Levesque was appreciative of the assistance he and his staff received from several other people in evaluating the talent on hand.
"Their input was very valuable in selecting the team," he said.
Of the nine goalies trying out, only Vallance and Jeff Stallard were selected for the intersquad game, which ramped up the pressure on the netminders battling for one open goaltender's position.
Levesque liked what he saw from several of the players who weren't chosen for the team, including Thompson's Trent Laycock, Jory Ross and Nik Kraychuk, along with out-of-town participants Tyrell Armstrong, Layne Anderson, Evan Spence and Brady Keeper.
Off the ice, the Northstars welcome a couple of new faces, including defence coach Eddie Wood, who played three years and more than 100 games with the Northstars and then three seasons with the Flin Flon Bomber, winning the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's best defenceman award in his final season. He then went on to play for the University of Maine Black Bears in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division 1, with whom we captured a national hockey championship. Also joining the squad is another former Northstar, deputy fire chief Kane Doran, who will serve as trainer. In addition to playing for the Northstars, Doran was a high-level track athlete as well, as a champion in the 110 metre hurdles in high school and at the University of Manitoba, where he was named an athletic All-Canadian in 1997, the same year he won a bronze medal in the 4x400 metre relay at the Canada Summer Games. Doran was also the gold-medal winner in the 110 metre hurdles at the 1999 Western Canada Summer Games. Wood and Doran will take the place of Derek Cepettelli and Lindsay Mutcheson, who were unable to continue in their roles with the team due to work commitments. Darryl Bourget replaces Ian Larsen as the team manager.
Whether the roster remains as is depends on what happens at junior camps.
"Justin Paulic and Drake Bodie continue to play exhibition games with their WHL teams this week so we continue to wait and see how things are going to develop for them," says Levesque. "The following weeks will give me a better feel for what style of play we will approach the beginning of the season with. Similar to last year though I believe we have the speed in our line-up to play another year of high-pressure, exciting hockey."
The coach also extended the Northstars organization's condolences following the death of Bruce Baker.
"Bruce and his son Michael have been greatly involved over the years on and off the ice both with the Northstars and hockey overall in Thompson," said Levesque. "He will truly be missed, our thoughts and prayers are with his family and many close friends during this very difficult time."