The Norman Northstars will see their first and only action of the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League this weekend in Souris, kicking things off on Friday night at 6 p.m. before pulling double duty on Saturday, playing their first contest at 9 a.m. and then hitting the ice again at 4:30 in the afternoon.
Not only will the preseason tilts provide the team with the opportunity to get a taste of game action ahead of their season opener at home on Thanksgiving weekend, it will also let the coaching staff get a look at what the team’s new players can do when it counts.
“It’s good for everyone to play a couple of games before we start the season,” says head coach Stu Cunningham, who will be getting his first game experience as the Northstars bench boss after previously spending several years as an assistant to long-time head coach Doug Korman. “We’re strong on paper. I’ll see what it looks like when it comes to the real games.”
Results aren’t the only thing that matters in the preseason, which will give Cunningham and his crew a chance to play with lines and defensive pairings, as well as put different personnel on the ice in power play and shorthanded situations. The coach plans to use the exhibition matches to give his rookies a little more playing time than they might see when the games are worth points in the standings.
“They’re practising well,” he says of the new additions, who join a large group of players who’ve been with the team for two seasons. “I’m going to be learning what they’re all about as well.”
Even with the preseason games they play, the Northstars will have a tough start to the season, facing off against teams that have had more opportunity to get game tested, as some of the league’s other teams, particularly those in Winnipeg, may have 10 or 12 exhibition games under their belt by the start of regular season play.
“We have a tough start to our season,” Cunningham says, with the Brandon Wheat Kings the first to visit Thompson, followed by the Winnipeg Wild a week later.
Physically, the Northstars are ready to play for real. This weekend’s games will give them a chance to hone their mental sharpness as well.
And while it doesn’t count for anything in the standings, Cunningham says preseason is no different than the real thing when it comes to the desired results.
“You always want to win every games,” the coach says. “I’d be very disappointed if we don’t win a game. We should have a strong showing.”
Although he’ll play with his line-up and some veterans may not dress for every game, Cunningham knows the team he goes into preseason with will be the one that starts the season, as the only two players eligible to return who are not with the team – forward Drake Bodie and goaltender Justin Paulic, both of Thompson – will, at the very least, start this hockey season with their respective WHL clubs, the Saskatoon Blades and the Moose Jaw Warriors, which is not only good news for the players themselves.
“It’s good for us,” Cunningham says. “It shows that our organization is doing good work.”
With nearly a month of practice and dryland training under their belts since tryouts in August, the players and the coaches are ready to see some action against opposing teams.
“You really don’t know what you actually have until the puck is dropped,” says Cunningham. “Hopefully you’re on stride. That’s all you can hope for.”