The Melfort Mustangs enter the second year under GM and Head Coach Gavin Holcomb in a much better position than one year ago.
With 19 players eligible to return including both goaltenders the Mustangs are in a position to make some noise in the Bauer Conference. With a 13 win season behind them the club is anxious to redeem themselves.
Training camp officially opened this past Friday but many of the players were in town the previous Monday to begin off-ice training with the coaching staff. Players were put through the paces on the track, turf and in the weight room.
With returning forwards Brandon Sloan, Jarrett Zentner and Godric Tham expected to do the majority of the scoring, the biggest question is where will the rest of the goals come from?
Clint Pirio had a fantastic camp offensively. The 6’2 225 pounder put up points in bunches and showed flashes of offensive brilliance. The key for him will be to keep the pace for the remainder of the year.
Jake Daughtry and Pearce Gourly looked solid at camp as well. With Gourley coming off a nagging knee injury the first few weeks could be key. If he stays healthy, his leadership and presence in the room will be felt. As for Daughtry, his size and speed are certainly assets… what his role will be with this club has yet to be determined.
When it comes to energy, the Mustangs have a pile of it. The line of Anthony Pickering, Landon Belchamber and Avery Van Blaricom was in my opinion one of the hardest working lines in the league last season. They finished checks, back checked hard and managed to find the back of the net as well.
If you consider the likes of Sheldon Argent, Clint Pirio, Gage Rapitta and Regan Wilton the club is full of guys that can throw their weight around as well.
On the back end, the team returns their entire corps. Carter Berg looks to cap off a junior career on a high note. His leadership and experience will be heavily relied on to mold recruits Jay Aasen and Mark Foster into everyday SJ rearguards.
Team Rookie of the Year Matt Saunderson and a slimmer, faster Zach Walker provide the mobility while Cody Brown, Brendan Parrone provide the size.
Goaltending will not be an issue this year as 20 year old Jesse Wilkins is back for his final year of junior hockey. The Calgary native was the team MVP last season and put up a .900 save percentage while facing the most shots out of any goalie in the league.
Patrick Johnson remains in camp with the Saskatoon Blades but could return in the coming days. “Johnny” picked up 4 of the Mustangs 13 wins and posted a .912 save percentage of his own in 15 appearances.
The club has also added Prince Albert Minto netminder Tyrel King to the fold. Both him and Johnson are expected to battle for the backup spot.
The 2012/2013 year will be an interesting one for the Mustangs as the Bauer Conference is expected to be tighter than it has ever been. Flin Flon, Nipawin, North Battleford and Humboldt are all slated to have big years while fans know to never count La Ronge out of the equation.
If the Mustangs can find a way to limit the rubber Jesse Wilkins faces and play with consistent grit and energy, this could very well be a playoff bound team.