As the Lethbridge Hurricanes kicked off main camp Friday morning, the list of names on the roster looked far different from the team that bowed out in a first-round WHL playoff upset in April.
Of the initial 56-man training camp roster, 26 players had moved up from rookie camp earlier in the week. That meant that more than half the players on the ice Friday were either 15 or 16 years old.
“We lost a lot of returning guys from last year,” said 19-year-old defenceman Calen Addison. “But you know, I think there’s nothing wrong with going young.”
Only 15 players on the training camp roster suited up for the Hurricanes last season and some appeared in only a handful of games. But head coach Brent Kisio said that’s to be expected on a junior hockey team.
“There’s been a lot of turnover,” Kisio said. “So there’s a lot of guys for us to learn, and a lot of guys have to show what they can do, and I think they are.
For the veteran players like Addison and fellow defenceman Koletrane Wilson, it’s an opportunity to set an example and dictate the tone at camp.
“We’ve all been there,” Wilson said. “We’ve all been in our first couple camps, and especially main camp for these rookies. Obviously, the last couple days they’ve just been going against each other, so you know, when they see us, it can be intimidating.
“I’ve been there before, but you know, we’ve got to be welcoming.”
Wilson said knowing the kind of turnover the team was facing this year, he changed his focus when training in the off-season.
“So that’s kind of what I worked on the most.”
The Edmonton native will be an over-age player for the Canes this season. He will turn 20 on Sept. 1. Last season, he had 19 points in 68 regular season games for Lethbridge.
Wilson said the bitter feelings from a surprise first-round playoff exit still sting.
“We had the team to go all the way compared to the year before, and you know, I would say we choked in the first round,” he said.
Lethbridge dropped a Game 7 decision at home to the Calgary Hitmen in April, ending what looked like a promising campaign.
“It was a tough way to end last year,” Addison said. “So of course it’s nice to come back, and we want to get revenge this year.”
The Hurricanes will have to wait and see how many of their top-end players will return from NHL training camps to round out the roster.
Addison leaves Tuesday for Pittsburgh to join teammate Jordy Bellerive at the Penguins’ camp.
Dylan Cozens is getting his first taste of the pro game in Buffalo after the Sabres drafted the Whitehorse native seventh overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Jake Leschyshyn and Nick Henry are skating with the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche, respectively.
For now, the Canes will look to fill the roster with young guns such as Zack Stringer, a hometown kid who has impressed so far at camp.
Stringer joined the Hurricanes at the end of last season, playing the final eight games of the regular season and six games in the playoffs, and putting up seven points.
“He’s so smart,” Addison said of Stringer, who was his teammate in Friday’s scrimmage.
Stringer and the rest of Lethbridge’s prospects will be on display when the Hurricanes host their annual intersquad game at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Enmax Centre.