Generals go back to work

Matthew Gourlie
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Telus Cup hosts return to the ice and begin to prepare for nation's best

The Moose Jaw Generals were excited to return to the ice Tuesday after more than two weeks off.

Ray Wareham, head coach for the Moose Jaw Generals, draws up a drill on a white board during the team's first practice after two weeks off at Mosaic Place Tuesday morning.

It was a good sign that they were still happy to be back even as they gasped for air at the end of their return practice.

It was a hard first practice back, but the Telus Cup hosts know it's part of the process after they were eliminated in four games in the first round of the playoffs by the Regina Pat Canadians.

"The kids seem re-energized. I don't know if they liked today. They were a little rusty and not much for legs, but we'll get them going here in the next couple of days and get them back into shape," said Generals head coach Ray Wareham. "They're in good spirits. I think it's finally starting to sink in what we have a chance to do here."

The Generals finished their practice with a hard skate and will expect to see more of the same for the rest of the week.

"We have to get the legs back under us somehow," offered Generals captain Trey Tendler. "When you're getting skated together, guys start to come together a little more, we push each other harder and it brings us together."

Since being knocked out of the playoffs, the Generals took two weeks away from the rink to re-focus. The out-of-town players returned home on the weekends to further give them a mental break.

"Playing 44 games in a season and hosting Telus Cup — teams wanted to beat us every night — it was pretty mentally tiring for us," said Tendler who enjoyed his time at home in Assiniboia.

The season is also a physical grind and the silver lining in their early elimination is that the Generals should be healthy and fresh when the tournament opens. Defenceman Shane Collins skated for the first time in six weeks.

"I'm feeling better, there have been no headaches. It's good to be back on the ice. It was a little tiring, but it's good to be back," said Collins, a third-round pick of the Prince George Cougars.

The Generals were down to four defencemen for much of their opening round series loss. Forward Josh Beaudry is still getting treatment on his injured shoulder, but everyone else is 100 per cent healthy.

The national midget AAA hockey championships will be held at Mosaic Place from Apri. 21-27.

The Generals have lined up a series of six scrimmages to try to stay game sharp. They have invited back a number of junior players with ties to the program who have finished their season, plus some midget AA players. They will then divide that group into two teams. They will play two of those scrimmages on Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Mosaic Place.

"That was the best option that we thought we had," said Wareham. "Those are good players who will help to make things a little more intense. It's hard when you're playing against each other to keep that intensity level up, but we'll do the best we can.

"Hopefully we'll be as fine-tuned as we can be without playing a game."

Tendler wants to make sure that the energy and intensity is where it needs to be every day during practice as well.

"We have to practice hard. We can't take it lightly. We can't just go through the motions. We have to push each other because we have no one else to play, so we have to play each other hard," Tendler said.

The Generals will also be able to use the practice time and the scrimmages to prepare for their potential opponents. The Generals are pretty familiar with almost all of their possible opponents from Western Canada.

Battlefords and the Notre Dame Argos are tied 1-1 in the Sask. Midget AAA Hockey League final series. The winner of that series will join the host Prince Albert Mintos, Manitoba champions, the Winnipeg Wild, and the Thunder Bay Kings in the Telus West regional.

In Alberta, Lloydminster and Red Deer are tied 1-1 in the championship series. The winner of that series will face the B.C. champion Okanagan Rockets to determine the Pacific representative at the Telus Cup.

The Generals were hoping to be still playing playoff hockey, instead they had one of their quickest exits in Wareham's tenure.

"We've talked to a lot of people who have been in these situations before. Personally, I never have been in this situation, but I tried to get as much info as I could on what we could do and what we might not want to do," Wareham said of the 45-day layoff between games.

The Generals are going to do some team building in addition to their work on the ice.

"We're going to bring in a couple of speakers to hopefully give the guys some motivational, inspirational talks," said Wareham. "Then we've got some silly things too because we want to have some fun. We have what we call Generals Idol. We did it last year. The guys get right into it. It was pretty fun last year. We're going to go up to (assistant coach Jeremy Ebbett's cabin) and do some stuff there. We might make the boys fend for themselves. We want to bring them together and get them excited for the opportunity they're going to have."

The first game is still four weeks away, but the excitement was slowly starting to build.

"The way (the playoffs) ended I think everyone was kind of down, but now that we have Telus we have a second chance and everybody is pretty ramped up for that," said Tendler.

"I think once we get through this week it's going to ramp up a little bit more and guys are going to get more excited," added Collins.

Wareham wants to get them excited and feeling good about the opportunity ahead of them. He also is hoping that they realize just how rare and special an opportunity it is.

"A lot of these guys — most of them probably — will never get a chance to play in a national championship again," said Wareham. "Some may move on and get lucky and get that chance, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Organizations: Telus, Winnipeg Wild, Thunder Bay Kings

Geographic location: Assiniboia.The, Western Canada.Battlefords, Notre Dame Sask. Manitoba Alberta Red Deer

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