Sometimes limited knowledge can be a good thing for a hockey coach.
That’s the approach being taken by rookie Lakehead Thunderwolves bench boss Bill McDonald, who says he’s heading into training camp with few, if any, preconceived notions about any of his players, veterans or newcomers.
With 35 expected on the ice when camp opens on Tuesday, the veteran McDonald said the slate is clean and everyone will be given equal opportunity to impress.
“It’s a competition,” he said on Wednesday, overseeing a Thunderwolves hockey school at the Tournament Centre.
“When we hit the ice here Tuesday at three o’clock, there will be a couple of drills and I’ll probably be in the stands watching the scrimmage. The one good thing is I’ve never really seen any of these guys play before. I’m coming in open-minded and everybody’s got a chance to prove themselves.”
The Wolves return 17 players from last year’s squad that bowed out in the opening round of the OUA playoffs.
Officially the team should have five recruits on hand, if David Quesnele makes it officials and the former OHLer joins his older brother Mike in Thunder Bay. Others include NCAA transfer Kellin Ainsworth and fellows forward Cody Alcock, defenceman Andrew Tessier and goalie Justin McDonald, who will compete with returnee Jeff Bosch for the No. 1 job between the pipes.
It’s the losses that, on the surface at least, appear the most troubling.
Matt Caria was one of the top scorers in the country, but has decided not to return. Prize recruits Luke Judson and Mike MacDonald also departed after just one year. Goalie Alex Dupuis has signed a pro deal with the Rapid City Rush of the Central Hockey League. Swedish forward Victor Anilane graduated after four years and also won’t return, while captain Adam Sergerie and defenceman Kalvin Sagert ran out of eligibility.
McDonald isn’t too concerned, at least not at this early stage.
“We’ve lost, obviously, some good players. We’ve added some respectable pieces to the puzzle. And I’m a big guy in that it’s not who we got, it’s how we play,” McDonald said.
“I think we’ve got ingredients there, that if we play the right way, we’ll be a good hockey team.”
On paper, the team’s obvious strength appears to be its blue-line.
With Mike Quesnele, Mitch Fillman, Jay Gilbert, Chris de la Lande, Riley McIntosh and James Delorey anchoring a squad that can compete with most other defensive corps in the OUA.
Up front, only Mike Hammond returns from the team’s top five scorers in 2012-13 – though the team caught a break when 11-goal-scorer Trevor Gamache rethought his decision to retire.
McDonald is also excited to see what a few local walk-ons have to offer, a group that includes OHL journeyman Adam Restoule and Matt Kaarela of the Thunder Bay North Stars, and hulking 6-foot-4 Eagle Lake, Ont. defenceman Nathan Bruyere, who scored 17 goals in 58 games with the OCN Blizzard last season.
“It’s a little bit more of a local flavour. What I see with these kids and what I’ve heard about these kids, they might be very capable of stepping in and helping us out,” McDonald said.
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