Optimism reigns as two young Calgary teams wrap up summer training for the AJHL
Within seconds of walking into the Max Bell Centre — the home of the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Calgary Canucks — all sorts of sounds assault you.
The machine-gun clacking of pucks against boards; the shrill sound of whistle after whistle as drills are called; echoing whoops as a goal is scored or the telltale scrape of a short stop.
In the lead-up to a fresh season of AJHL hockey, the Canucks have been training hard. Watching an intra-team scrimmage is an intense experience.
Those associated with the team would hope that, due to finishing two straight years out of the playoffs, the Canucks are looking to get their mojo back.The energy crackling in the arena feels like a good omen.
It is natural in hockey that a difficult campaign would bring about a summer of change. The most tangible is a change in management.
Ryan Barrett, once both the GM and coach for the Canucks, has passed on his responsibilities as manager to Chad Shiel. Both are excited at the new possibilities this has opened up.
“Now that we have Chad on board, I’m able to focus purely on coaching. It’s been really good for me and the team.” Barrett explains.
“We have renewed discipline as a team. I’m confident that when we combine that with the talent our guys have that we’re going to see a change.”
Despite coaching the Canucks to a 15-42-3- record — the team’s worst in its 42-year history — Barrett has Shiel’s full support.
“Ryan knows the game,” says Shiel. “With me handling the business aspects, he’s got more time
Photo by Max Foley on his hands to help the guys perform their best. I’m excited to see what he’s got in store for the season.”
It is clear that the work ethic put forth by the team from game-to-game the past two seasons won’t cut it anymore.
Shiel says he has no qualms letting go players that fail to meet the standards of the organization.
“We have to be a little less lenient, a little more willing to cut those that cannot meet our expectations,” says Shiel.
RIDING THE WAVE
Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, the Calgary Mustangs are on the same page as a team.
After a 2013-14 campaign that saw the team earn a playoff spot, Jeff Richards— the team’s general manager for the past three seasons — has high hopes.
“Competition is stiff. We’ve seen some real powerhouses dominate the league but we’re proud to say we can compete,” says Richards. “We have a strong nucleus of players, so this year, we’re looking to come out of the South. We can go all the way.”
Watching the Mustangs run their drills adds weight to Richards’ words. Everything is tight. It almost feels choreographed.
“I like the work ethic we’re seeing,” says coach Derek Stuart. “Our veterans and rookies alike are bringing some serious fire in camp. Last season went well but we’re looking to do even better this year.”
Stuart is inspired by what he’s seen since the beginning of summer.
“It’s gonna be very competitive. Our guys are gonna have to show some initiative and step up to the plate. But I’m confident that they can handle it.”
Team officials would certainly hope the competitive fire on display at camp will translate to a major improvement in the team’s scoring depth. The Mustangs had only four players record 10 or more goals, which represents a league low.
Ravi Dattani, the Mustangs’ workhorse goalie, will certainly be a major factor in the any success the team will hope to achieve.
Just like his coach he is hoping a strong training camp will carry over to the regular season.
“This summer’s been really good for my agility, so hopefully that’ll translate well into gameplay. I’ll be doing everything I can to stop the puck and make it easier for our front line,” he says proudly.
Two Calgary teams, as different as they are alike, are led by a sense of optimism as they prepare to battle some of the AJHL’s heavy hitters.
WHERE TO START
The Mustangs and Canucks go head-to-head 7 p.m., Sept. 5, at Max Bell Centre.
It’s the first game of the season for both teams, and the first on the AJHL 2014-2015 regular season schedule.
The cross-town rivals will butt heads six times over the course of their respective 60-game schedules.
The Canucks then face the Drumheller Dragons at 7 p.m., Sept. 6, at Max Bell, their home turf.
The Mustangs’ next game comes eight days after opening the season against the Canucks, 7:30 p.m., Sept. 13, against Camrose at Father David Bauer Arena.
Canucks and Mustangs matchups:
• Friday Sept. 5- Mustangs@Canucks: Max Bell Centre
• Tuesday Oct. 21- Mustangs@Canucks: Max Bell Centre
• Monday Nov. 3- Canucks@Mustangs: Father David Bauer Arena
• Thursday Nov. 27- Canucks@Mustangs: Father David Bauer Arena
• Thursday Jan. 29- Canucks@Mustangs: Father David Bauer Arena
• Thursday Feb. 19- Mustangs@Canucks: Max Bell Centre