By: Ben Leeson Sudbury Star
They aren’t quite starting from scratch, but Rayside-Balfour Canadians head coach Darryl Moxam and associate coach/general manager Dave Clancy have an opportunity right away to put their stamp on the local NOJHL entry.
With only half a dozen players expected back for 2016-17, newcomers may have a better chance than usual of making the team as they hit the ice for spring tryout camp, held Friday to Sunday at RHP Training Centre and Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury.
“We’ll have a chance starting this week to put some things in place and let the players know what our expectations are, and they’ll get their first opportunity to take a step towards being part of something that, hopefully, will be really good in the next few years,” said Moxam, named to the Canadians’ coaching staff along with Clancy, Vagelli Sakellaris and Barrie Moore last month.
“From what we can see right now, we’re only going to have six or seven returning players, just from players moving on to the OHL, guys like (Brad) Chenier and maybe Cayse Ton,” Clancy added. “They had a fairly old defensive crew last year, with five 20-year-olds, so we basically need a whole new defence. There will be lots of opportunities for kids to come in and earn a spot.”
More than 30 players have already registered for camp, which opens with fitness testing at RHP, Friday at 5 p.m., then continues with one-ice practices and scrimmages at Countryside, Saturday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Player signings and exit interviews are Sunday at 1:15 p.m.
“There’s no question, even since the last time I coached in the NOJHL, the game is just so much speed now, and so much skill,” Moxam said. “There are a few teams in the league with a few more 19- and 20-year-olds than we will be able to have this year, based on what we believe is coming to camp, but at the end of the day, we want kids who want to commit, want to compete, day in and day out, and we want to have a ton of speed and a ton of skill.”
Providing some of each will be Kyle Liinamaa, a standout for the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves midget AAA team this season and the first player from his age group to commit for the coming campaign.
Liinamaa led the Nickel Caps in goals, with 25, and points, with 64, and was an acknowledged leader for the Great North Midget League champions.
“We have met with Kyle and he’s an exceptional young man, his character was easy to see right off the bat, and he’s excited to get going,” Moxam said. “Everyone I have talked to raves about his compete level and his skill set and I think he’s the perfect type of player we’re looking for to get started this year, but also to build around for the next few years.”
Liinamaa is eager to get started.
“It’s nice for me to start my junior career off in Sudbury,” he said. “The new coaches came from Laurentian, they have a lot of experience and they all know what they’re doing. It’s going to be fun to play for them.
“I’m honoured that they came to be as one of their first guys. Going into training camp, I’m going to play with a purpose and try to be a leader for other guys out there, and hopefully help the team do well this season, make the playoffs and do well in playoffs.”
Recent Rayside rosters have been composed almost entirely of local players, but Clancy said players will travel from as far as Thunder Bay, Moose Factory, and points in southern Ontario for tryouts.
“It should be a good mixture,” Clancy said. “There are probably about 15 locals, so it’s not too bad, but it seems like in that age group, there wasn’t a lot of kids kicking around like in the past. It will be interesting to see just where the local guys end up.”
It’s too soon to say if any Sudbury Wolves prospects will play for Rayside, but while the teams have been on-again, off-again affiliates in the past, that won’t be the case in 2016-17.
“I had a really good conversation with (Wolves president) Blaine Smith and being a direct affiliate really doesn’t benefit either team,” Clancy said. “We have a great working relationship with both the Wolves and the AAA midgets. I have had meetings with both groups and we’re trying to move players either up or down on both ends, that’s what I want to do, because it’s our job to help kids reach the next level, but to say we have a direct affiliation, no, we don’t.”
The Canadians will look to add at all positions, but with so many defencemen leaving, they’ll pay particular attention to the blueline.
“It’s exciting and a bit daunting,” Moxam said with a chuckle. “Most great teams are built from the back end, with the possible exception of the Pittsburgh Penguins right now. We do have some returning defencemen who are expecting to be part of it and we expect them to play big minutes, but really, it’s going to be no different from anyone else, forwards or goalies, everybody has got their chance starting this weekend and we’re going to pick the best 25 players, come September, who are going to be a part of this moving forward.”
For more information on this week’s tryout camp, visit www.rbcanadians.com/spring-tryout.