THUNDER BAY – It’s been a long couple of years for Lakehead Thunderwolves goaltender Blake Weyrick.
The Santa Monica, Calif. native spent the 2019-20 campaign in the press box, red-shirting after spending the previous season suiting up for Canisius College in Buffalo.
He lost last season to the pandemic, and like the rest of his Thunderwolves teammates, is just itching to get back into meaningful competition.
The 25-year-old, who spent two seasons with the United States national junior development team, a squad that included the likes of future NHLers Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, Alex Tuch and Dylan Larkin, kicked off the 2021-22 season on Monday night at the Tournament Centre, the T-Wolves hitting the ice for the start of training camp.
It’s just good to be back with the boys, Weyrick said.
“It’s a huge privilege to be part of this program and to be in this community. It’s been a long time off, but getting back here, back with this group and the staff, it’s been an unbelievable opportunity with these guys,” he said.
“Just being back on the ice with these guys and my roommates is really something that every day you wake up and you make the most of it. We have guys that are at the rink two hours early for practice, just to be in the room with the guys and be ready to go.”
One of those guys was defenceman Colin Van Den Hurk, a 22-year-old from Havelock, Ont., who had a cup of coffee in the Ontario Hockey League and spent 2019-20 with the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Trenton Golden Hawks, where he put up 42 points in 50 games.
It’s the camaraderie of the sport that he most missed.
“We’re all raring to get at the rink every day. Guys are going to the gym together, guys are doing everything together. We’re loving being in the dressing room, being in that kind of atmosphere again and I’m just looking forward to getting the season started and playing with my teammates and making memories along the way,” Van Den Hurk said.
“And hopefully we get a great start to the season.”
That’s just what third-year coach Andrew Wilkins, who has about 17 new faces in camp, was hoping to hear.
Wilkins’ squad is coming off a seventh-place finish in 2019-20, a season after missing the playoffs for the second time in three years.
Monday’s scrimmage was a chance to get a first-hand look at the team he’s had to assemble, much of it virtually due to pandemic recruiting restrictions.
“Any time that you have new energy, it’s exciting not just for us as a staff, but for us as a program. We’re excited to get started. It’s been a long time coming. We have some guys returning, a lot of new faces, some walk-ons as well. It should be fun,” Wilkins said.
The goal is to be ready to hit the ice running when the OUA season begins on Nov. 4.
“I think with a new group you’re ready for a learning process. We want to be peaking by the time we’re playing games and I think we have over a month before the start of OUA competition starting in November. We’ll have lots of time to practice, lots of time to gel as a team. We just want to keep getting better every day.”
Claw marks: The Wolves were joined at camp by former ECHL champion Todd Skirving, who will return to the Newfoundland Growlers this season, former University of Minnesota-Duluth forward Billy Exell and former SIJHL scoring champion Keighan Gerrie, who is expected to return to the British Columbia Hockey League this fall.