ESTEVAN - The Estevan Eclipse Downhole Solutions U18 AAA Bears hockey team had a good, long look at their talent for the upcoming season during their training camp from Friday to Sunday.
Forty-eight players participated in scrimmages throughout the weekend.
“It’s a tough grind and a tough schedule with six games in 2 1/2 days,” said Bears head coach and general manager Jeff Smith. “The boys were really tired near the end, but their colours really showed through, and they battled hard at the last Black and White game.”
Team White defeated Team Black 5-4 in the intersquad game. Blake Jamieson was the coach of the winning team.
As for the camp standouts, Marshall Light is a newcomer to the team who looked great, Smith said. Ayden Lemarre was one of the returning players who really stood out, and Blaze Gutzke’s offensive skill shone through.
Among Estevan area kids, Landon Kaban was a surprise player at camp. Turner Knockaert also turned heads during the weekend.
“There’s lots of local talent that is almost there. With the AA program as good it’s been the last few years, and almost a feeder team to the AAA, it’s good to keep an eye on those local kids,” said Smith.
He predicted there could be four or five who will be a Bear next season or the following year.
Since the Bears camp was held the same weekend as the Estevan junior Bruins, some of the Bears were also able to be at the Bruins camp.
“It was a great opportunity to skate at the SJ (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League) level, and show them the pace and the play that you have to have for a national championship team,” said Smith.
A couple of players returned for the Black and White game, and you could tell the difference in the pace of play from being with the Bruins for the weekend.
Last season was the first for the Bears, and they finished with a 2-3-1 record, attaining a number of milestones along the way. The season was halted in November 2020.
The talent from last year to this year’s camp was “night and day,” Smith said.
“It was great to see that we actually have some AAA experience now, and some of these kids that are coming back from last year have improved and gotten that much better.”
Six players have graduated from last year’s team, and four more joined other programs.
The Bears have sent everyone home for this week and the players will return to Estevan next week for the start of school. They will start practising, and then embark on preseason and the regular season.
“A lot of our older players will be going to SJ camps and WHL (Western Hockey League) camps,” said Smith.
Their first game will be Sept. 25 at home against the Warman Wildcats.