THUNDER BAY -- If one preseason tryout is any indication, the Thunder Bay North Stars will not be afraid to embrace the physical element of the game this upcoming campaign.
Kris Kellaway learned that lesson the hard way on Saturday morning.
The North Stars held three training camp sessions this weekend at the Fort William First Nation to help finalize their roster in advance of their Superior International Junior Hockey League regular season opener on Sept. 19 against the defending league champion Fort Frances Lakers.
The forward was carrying the puck at his own blue line during a scrimmage when he took a high, thunderous hit from new signee Chase Stewart that sent him crashing hard to the ice, with the visor snapping off his helmet.
He bounced back up right away, angry at first, but after the scrimmage said that kind of toughness is a good sign going forward.
“A hit is a hit, I’ll take it. I’d like to see it in a game (not on me),” Kellaway said with a laugh. “It was a pretty rough, fast tryout and it was good to see.”
While head coach Jeremy Adduono appreciated the effort from Stewart, he said there is a time and place to set the tone with that kind of hit.
It’s definitely not when a player wearing the same crest on the sweater has their head down at the blue line.
“You definitely want to see kids compete and you want to see passion but at the same time I addressed the kids before the skate and told them I want our training camp to go the same way we’ll play,” he said.
“We want to play hard, gritty hockey but we want to do it between the whistles and we want to do it fair and we want guys to respect each other, especially when they’re competing against potential teammates.”
The team will bring back a solid group of players from last season’s squad that finished second in the league standings with 40 wins but fell in the league semifinals in six games against the Minnesota Iron Rangers.
That nucleus includes Kellaway, who Adduono said will be looked upon to serve in a leadership role, 30-goal scorer Matthias Gardiman, steady defenceman Tim Cavar and the netminding duo of goalie of the year Eric Mann and Nathaniel Dupuis.
This weekend’s tryouts will play a pivotal role in determining who joins the group.
“We have a fairly good idea of what we have returning for our core but we are also looking to fill some holes. There are some roster spots to fill,” Adduono said.
“The biggest thing we’re looking for is good character people…That’s first and foremost what we look for.”
One of the biggest challenges for the team will be to replace the scoring load that was carried by a pair of youngsters, league MVP Daniel Del Paggio and Zach Grzelewski, who have advanced to the next stage of their careers.
Del Paggio was picked up in the spring by the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Grzelewski, who played in a few games with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights last year, is expected to spend the year in London.
Adduono said the meteoric rise of the two, who combined for 184 regular season points, was not expected.
“Last year we knew they were talented kids but by no means could we have predicted the years they had,” Adduono said.
“Looking at the camp in June and the skates we had (this weekend) you know there are some talented kids out there and there will probably be two or three kids who will emerge this year no one really expects.”
One of those players could include former Thunder Bay King Kris Hamlin, who netted a pair of goals in the Saturday morning session.
Gardiman was the third forward on that line with Del Paggio and Grzelewski and knows better than anyone who big of a footprint those two left behind.
It will take more than one or two guys to pick up that output, he said.
“I think everybody has to step up, to be completely honest,” Gardiman said. “Anybody on this team can step up. I think everybody has the ability to do it.”
The North Stars begin the season with a three-game road trip before welcoming the Iron Rangers to the Fort William Gardens for their home opener on Oct. 1.
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