The St. Albert U18 AAA Raiders took to the ice in an inter-squad game — the 2021 Larry Mitchell Cup, honouring former Gazette sports-writer Larry Mitchell — as part of their annual training camp at Jarome Iginla Arena on Sunday.
It was a fast-paced game that saw team hopefuls on Team White and Team Blue try to make their mark as coaches sat on the sidelines deciding which players to keep and which ones to cut.
William Kinsella opened the scoring for Team White with a snipe from the circle that beat the goaltender over the shoulder in the opening minutes. This goal seemed to wake up Team Blue as they tilted the ice and eventually scored two consecutive goals in the period to take a 2-1 lead after the first period. Karson Kerbes and Jacob Goudreau were the goal scorers.
Things started to tighten up in the middle frame. The goaltenders were sharp and the only action we saw was a goal by Kaden Wolitski to extend Team Blue’s lead to 3-1 heading into the third and final period.
Blue seemingly put things away with an early short-handed marker by Jesse Hiller to make things 4-1, but Team White wouldn’t go away that easily.
Cash Carter cut the lead to 4-2 at about the midway part of the period and then Drew Perneel jumped on a loose puck in the dying minutes to make it 4-3, with about three minutes left in the game. Those dying minutes would be an all-out war in the Blue end as White pushed for the equalizer.
With their goalie pulled for the extra attacker, White threw all they could at the net, but it wouldn’t be enough. Blue took home the 2021 Larry Mitchell Cup by a final score of 4-3.
Head coach Jack Redlick said training camp has been a process and that a good crop of rookies are making their case for a spot on the team.
“We started off with approximately 200 kids and we’re sitting at around 40 right now,” said Redlick. “The process started last weekend with our rookie camp, which involves our [2006 birthdays] and we were impressed with it, and we ended up bringing 24 players from that through to our main camp.”
An area of strength seems to be between the pipes. They have an impressive set of goaltenders attending this year’s camp and Redlick isn’t looking forward to having to cut any of them.
“We’ve been really happy with our goaltenders,” said Redlick. “It’s been quite the battle and it is going to make [the coaches'] lives extremely hard.
“We have one 15-year-old goaltender who played on the U15 AAA last year who hasn’t let a goal in through all of rookie camp, main camp, and the Larry Mitchell Cup ... He’s kicked the shut-out the whole time so he is making life hard on us!”
It is standard procedure that younger players are more hard-pressed to make the team. Logic dictates that the older players will adjust better, but that doesn’t mean all veteran players are guaranteed a spot on the team. Redlick said they cut at least one veteran every year and he doesn’t see that changing with the young talent they have at camp this year.
“Traditionally we have always released a veteran,” said Redlick. “They know coming in that they have to earn everything and every single year there is a new crop of kids coming up that want [their] job ... we start with 200 kids for 20 roster spots so that’s the competitive atmosphere we want.”
One of those players trying to make the team for the first time is Gaege Johnson, who was among the last players cut at last year’s camp. He said he has grown in the past year and is looking forward to getting another crack at the roster.
“It felt like tryouts lasted forever last year and it’s a battle for a couple of weeks ... I lost the Larry Mitchell Cup last year, so it felt good to win it this year,” said Johnson. “I’ve tried to put on a little size, I gained probably 10 pounds since last summer, and I want to try to use that to my advantage.
“I want to practice my shot, too, and my skating ability. Since I’m a smaller guy I have to move around a little faster and be more agile.”
Johnson said he can bring a bit of everything to the team if he survives the tryout process.
“I’m a sandpaper-grit type of player,” said Johnson. “I block shots, get pucks in deep, and try to find teammates in front of the net ... just try to be as physical as I can.”
Johnson will be joining the rest of his fellow Raider hopefuls on the ice this week as tryouts continue at the Jarome Iginla Arena. They practice this Thursday from 4:15 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. and have a final scrimmage on Saturday with a 5:30 p.m. start time.
Redlick expects to have the final 20-man roster set in stone by Sept. 29.
The Raiders will open their preseason schedule on Sept. 14 with a game against the Edmonton Canadians in Edmonton. They will then travel to Calgary to take part in a showcase tournament from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, with regular practices beginning on Oct. 5.
Puck-drop on their regular-season schedule is set for Oct. 9 in Lloydminster, while their home-opener will go on Oct. 13 at Jarome Iginla Arena against Maple Leaf Athletic Club.