Over the course of their careers, many of the Moose Jaw Warriors will get a few ‘welcome to the WHL’ moments.
Thursday’s opening day of the Warriors rookie camp certainly counts.
The Warriors held their fitness testing in the morning, had a practice for all of their rookies and then had their first rookie scrimmage of the camp. For the players that took part in the scrimmage it was the culmination of a long day.
“We had testing in the morning and then the practice was pretty intense. It was a long day,” said defenceman Christos Zinis, an eighth-round pick from Broomfield, a suburb of Denver, Colo.
Warriors head coach Mike Stothers was pleased with how the young players dealt with a pretty full opening day.
“They’ve had a pretty tough morning with fitness testing, plus the nerves and excitement of training camp,” said Stothers. “For some of them it’s their first time here and they don’t really know what to expect.
“Overall I thought it was a pretty good day. The kids worked hard. They’re worth the time and the effort.”
Ethan Williams, a Winnipeg product who played for the Pursuit of Excellence academy program in Kelowna, B.C., was the Warriors’ fifth round pick in this past WHL Bantam draft. He said he worked hard to be ready for his first WHL camp.
“It’s been a challenge with the fitness testing. I’m not really used to it, but I trained for it and it turned out really well,” said forward Ethan Williams.
Thirty minutes into most of the practice sessions, the players were doubled over as they headed to the bench to get some water and prepare for the next drill.
“The intensity is a lot higher. It’s a faster pace. There’s better coaching,” said Zinis of the practice sessions. “The biggest challenge is probably keeping up with the older guys. They’re a year or two older and they’re a bit bigger and faster.”
The tempo of practice was the biggest change for the 15-year-old newcomers.
“It was fast and high-paced,” said Williams who scored the goal of the opening scrimmage when he ripped a slapshot into the top corner off of the rush.
“The coaches did a really good job on the drills and all of the details.”
Stothers likes to keep his players moving during his practices. While the tempo was brisk, it was a lot closer to a game-day skate than it was to one of the Warriors’ harder practices.
“I told them after the practice that this was nothing. They should see a work day,” said Stothers. “We wanted to start last year by establishing ourselves as a hard-working team and we want to do the same this year. It’s just something they have to get accustomed too.”
While Stothers tries to set a standard of effort for all of his players, he hasn’t forgotten how big of a jump it is to the junior level.
“I might be 50, but I still remember how hard it was to go from midget to junior. It’s a big step and day one is always tough with the jitters,” said Stothers.
“We were able to instill an idea of what this team is all about and what this organization is all about. I think when they go home tonight, they’ll put their head on their pillow and they’ll rest heavily.”