The Outlaws took their first steps towards the 2016-17 season with a 3 day training camp, which wrapped up Saturday night.
It was a chance for some young players to try and show the coaching staff they have what it takes to wear black and white this season.
For returning players like Bailey Wright, it’s a chance to show the coaches he deserves a bigger role this season. With the departure of top scorers like David McGowan and Bryce Pisiak, Wright is hoping to be among those nabbing the minutes they sopped up last season. Last year, he made quite an impression, scoring 14 goals and 30 points in 35 games. He’s hoping to be one of the players that will get fans out of their seats this season.
“I really want to do what I can to contribute. It’s nice we have a lot of guys coming back, guys that know what it takes to win. I know there’s areas of my game I need to improve in, and I hope I can do that while putting up some good numbers”.
20 year old Kyle Lennea is entering his 4th season with the Outlaws, having already played 145 games between the playoffs and regular season. The hulking forward/defenseman has only one thing on his mind when the season kicks off.
“Winning. Plain and simple. I just want to win. I’m one of the 20s and I hope I can help the young guys realize what they need to do to help the Outlaws continue what we’ve built the past 2 seasons. I don’t care about the stats I post. I just care that at the end of the game, we’re skating away with 2 points. I think we’ve got a great core coming back and if we work together, we should accomplish our goals.”
Tyler Wickman is one of the few returning defenseman on the roster and is hoping to also play a bigger part in any Outlaw success this year. The Yale Academy grad played 6 games last season with the Merritt Centennials before suiting up for 30 regular season games with the ‘Laws, scoring 4 times and adding 7 helpers along the way. I asked what areas he hopes to evolve his game in.
“For me, I want to get better in my zone, but at the same time I also want to improve on my point total from last year. With so many good vets gone like Padg and Dundas, there’s potentially a lot of minutes for guys that want to work hard to earn them. I want to be a guy the coaches lean on for special teams, and in big moments of the game. I think we should have another great team here this year.”
I caught up with Coach Brad Veitch after player exit interviews and asked if it was a harder struggle coming from where the team had been a few years ago to now defending champions, or playing this year with a bullseye on their back.
“It was very difficult for all of us involved, building this program to where it is now. One thing I would have liked to have seen in this camp, and quite honestly, going back to last year’s too… is guys coming in ready, in better shape.
We have a lot of returning veterans that have had success, but we want to make sure they are hungry again this year.
One of the things we stress with the young players trying to making the team is the need for conditioning. It’s something that I think surprised many of them… the demands of playing at this level. I hope our older guys realize the need for it too.”
When asked which players he expects to take the next step and become leaders this season, there are a few he hopes will take the ‘bull by the horns’.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that played 3rd or 4th line roles last year, watching players like McGowan, Pisiak, Padgham play a lot of minutes. We’re hoping they’re ready to be the leaders we need. Guys like Lennea, Wright, Castonguay, Sande and Wickman…there are a number more I could name, its players like these which need to be the guys we look to this season.”
Coach Veitch also talked about players knowing their roles extend far beyond the walls of the Mission Leisure Center.
“You’re playing for a community which loves this team. You have to realize you are ambassadors and role models, that kids are looking up to you. I think the vets of the past few years did a great job of that and hope that legacy continues.”
The Outlaws play their lone exhibition game on September 2nd at 7:30 in Maple Ridge against the Flames. Yet another step for this team to come together as they prepare to defend the first PJHL title in franchise history.