Hunter wants to see the fight in his dogs

Matthew Gourlie
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Warriors open pre-season tonight against Swift Current

After four busy days of training camp, Tim Hunter is starting to get a feel for his players.

Tim Hunter speaks to a group of players during the Moose Jaw Warriors training camp this past weekend at Mosaic Place.

Tonight the new Moose Jaw Warriors head coach will get an idea of how they compete under game conditions. The Warriors will kick off the Western Hockey League pre-season schedule when they host the Swift Current Broncos in their annual rookie game (7 p.m., Mosaic Place).

"The real bullets make a difference out there," said Hunter. "You see how guys compete along the boards and against an opponent who means business and really wants to take the puck. Hockey is really a game of two dogs and when you throw the bone down, one dog is going to get the bone. It's seeing who wants the bone the most.

"We're looking for guys who want to compete and guys who are able to make plays and guys who can think the game."

The Warriors have 34 players remaining in camp after holding two scrimmages per day for the past three days for most of the younger players. Given that, it's unlikely that the game will have a lot of flow or structure, but Hunter said that the player's effort and decision-making will be closely scrutinized.

"It's about your compete level in the tough areas of the game — in front of the net, in the corners and along the boards — and in the same sense you have to have the composure to make a play when you're under pressure as well," he said.

Warriors general manager Alan Millar challenged some of his veterans to be better following Sunday's Black-White intrasquad game. Hunter said he told the team to put training camp behind them and focus on putting their best foot forward Tuesday and again Thursday when the Warriors will travel to Regina for another rookie pre-season contest.

"It's all a process and we don't want to skip any steps here," said Hunter. "We want to give all of the guys a good, honest look here over these two games this week to see what they can do. Some guys have had average camps at this point, but this week is a new week.

"Forget about last week. It's a new week, give me your best and we'll see how things shake out."

Since camp opened on Thursday Hunter has been busy familiarizing himself with all of his new players. Given the numbers in camp, there was a lot of work to do in evaluating their hockey talent. Now that the size of the group is more manageable, he is happy to be getting to know them better as people as well.

"It's easier to get to know guys and start to communicate what you expect from them and how they've been playing up to this point," Hunter said.

His first impression of the Warriors' 50-man list is a positive one. He singled out the players in rookie camp in particular for praise and is happy to see lots of competition for spots in the coming weeks.

"I'm amazed at how many good young hockey players that there are here who are 15, 16 and 17 years old," Hunter said. "It's been a great job by the organization stocking the cupboards with prospects and guys that are knocking on the door to try to get a job to play here.

"It makes a coach feel good. It puts pressure on guys to perform. You know somebody is ready to take your job and that makes everyone better. Athletes want that. They want competition. Coaches like that because we get options."

Admission for Tuesday's game will be by donation with the proceeds going to Moose Jaw's Journey to Hope in honour of Ethan Williams.

Organizations: Western Hockey League

Geographic location: Swift Current, Regina, Moose Jaw

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