ESTEVAN - It was a short but busy offseason for the Estevan Bruins.
The club will be back on the ice this weekend for its fall training camp, roughly three months after the 2021-22 season came to an end while serving as the host team for the Centennial Cup National Junior A Hockey Championship.
The Bruins are expecting to return seven players from the club that won the SJHL’s Canalta Cup championship in May: goaltender Cam Hrdlicka, defencemen Alex Von Sprecken and Aleksa Babic, and forwards Cody Davis, Kade Runke, Mitch Kohner and Zachary Burns.
“That’s seven more champions than other teams have,” said head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic. “That experience is always beneficial. They know what it takes to win. They’ve been there and they’ve seen it firsthand. They can relay that experience to the guys on what it takes to win.”
Eight players from last year’s team have graduated from junior hockey. Then there were the trades and other departures.
Defenceman Kian Calder and forward Jamie Valentino have been shipped to the Portage Terriers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, while forward Brandon Ambrozik was dealt to Manitoba’s Selkirk Steelers. Forward Caelan Fitzpatrick was shipped to the defending national champions, the Alberta league’s Brooks Bandits, and defenceman Damon Byers was traded to the Humboldt Broncos.
Two defencemen – Billy Sowa and Matt Millette – have opted to go to school. So did forward Keagon Little. Another forward, Zach Burfoot, decided to play in the North American Hockey League.
Tatarnic said Little and Burfoot were the only departures that were a surprise.
It means the club has been busy making moves to bring in talent, whether it be through trades or first-year player recruitment.
Even though they have just two returning defencemen, Tatnarnic said they’re really excited about the blue-line brigade. Veteran defenceman Owen Miley has been brought in from the Renfrew Junior A Wolves of the Central Canadian Hockey League, while Robbie Stewart is coming from the CCHL champions, the Ottawa Junior A Senators.
“We have a crop of young guys coming again who are talented players,” Tatarnic said.
Up front, it will be interesting to see how everyone pans out, because they believe they have some really good forwards coming to camp.
“We won’t really know until we see them in action at this level,” he said.
It is nice to have a goalie returning from last year’s team. Hrdlicka was a walk-on last year, but went 18-1-1 with a 1.71 goals against average for the Bruins.
“We think he’s going to be a really good goaltender in our league, and we have a lot of confidence in him,” said Tatarnic.
Among those scheduled to be at camp is goaltender Jackson Miller, a local product who spent the past two seasons with the Estevan Steelhaus U18 AAA Bears.
About 60 players are expected to attend camp. They will be divided into three teams. Games will be at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There will not be a Black-Gold intersquad game.
“I think it will be a really competitive camp,” said Tatarnic. “I think there’s going to be some guys fighting for spots.”