Grande Prairie Kings finish up first portion of training camp, regular season on the horizon

Grant Yee of the County of Grande Prairie Kings skates during training camp at the Crosslink County Sportsplex on Tuesday night. Yee and his teammates will be in High Level this weekend for a pair of exhibition games. The regular season starts for the locals on Sept. 20 when the Fort St. John Huskies come to town for an 8 p.m. game at the Crosslink County Sportsplex. Gordon Anderson / Daily Herald Tribune

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The County of Grande Prairie Kings wrapped up their opening weekend of training camp at the Crosslink County Sportsplex on Sunday night.

Kings Head Coach Kyle Chapple put the players through the typical drills and one-on-one scenarios, immensely pleased with what he saw from the 20-plus guys who gutted it through the opening three days of the pre-season.

“I told the guys after the camp was over it was one of our better camps,” Chapple said before practice on Tuesday night at the Crosslink County Sportsplex. “Not so much what they were able to do in the first three skates but there was no complaining and they were buying in early (to what we wanted to do). They pushed each other to get the most out of the three days.”

“I think we’re looking pretty strong and we have a few younger guys who have some skill,” Kings Captain Brent Headon added when asked about his initial thoughts of the three days. “I think the morals are really good, in terms of it being early in the season. Everyone is clicking and getting along.”

The Kings practiced on Tuesday night and will reconvene again on Thursday night, before heading to High Level for a couple of exhibition games against North West Junior Hockey League foes this weekend. The club will play the North Peace Navigators on Saturday night before a quick turnaround game with the Fairview Flyers on Sunday afternoon.

The ultra-fast pre-season hits the wall come Sept. 20, when the Fort St. John Huskies come to town for an 8 p.m. regular season game at the Crosslink County Sportsplex.

Competitive nature

Another thing Chapple enjoyed during the three-on ice sessions and the one off-ice session was the willingness to compete. There are players who have already made the squad—whether they were on last year’s team or recently acquired players—but everyone was battling, whether in mid-season shape or not, like it was their first junior training camp.

“We did quite a few battle drills and competition drills against one another and the compete level was extremely high,” Chapple said in reference to the on-ice work. “It was a competitive camp that way. Overall, I think they worked extremely hard. There were a few (players) who were out of shape and may or may not have gotten sick but (those guys) didn’t cut corners and they pushed themselves to the max and that’s all we can ask for in the first (three practices).”

Early philosophy

Like most teams in the NWJHL, the Kings don’t have the luxury of time to invite 40 to 50 players to training camp, where they can carefully make crucial decisions, wheedling out players until a roster of 20-odd players is chosen. There are five total on-ice sessions and two exhibition games, before decisions loom and then the puck drops for real.

The players invited to camp will—with a few exceptions—be on the roster for the regular season opener. Time is of the essence and that’s why camp has partly taken on a regular season atmosphere from the outset.

“One of things we talked about right before day one of camp was ‘we’re going to try and get better right now,’” Chapple said. “‘This isn’t just a tryout. If you’re stepping on the ice, let’s try to get better for game one of the season and if you’re here, you did your job and you got better and you’re ready to go for game one. If you’re lazy and you’re going to cut corners, you’re not going to be here, and if you are, you’re not doing your share to make the team better.’”

Time well spent

Following last season’s North West Junior Hockey League (NWJHL) playoff run for the County of Grande Prairie Kings, which culminated in a six-game loss to the Fort. St. John Huskies in the NWJHL final, a summer of rest was in order for the players who scrapped and persevered through the post-season.

“It was very hectic, with a lot of crazy nights and in a short amount of time,” Kings Head Coach Kyle Chapple said prior to training camp on Tuesday night when reflecting on the 18 games in 32 day playoff journey. “(The Jr. A) guys are focusing on hockey and these guys are working (or going to school at the same time). It was pretty impressive. They got their break and (now they’re) ready to go.”

Chapple wanted the players to hang the skates up, put the sticks away and disinfect the hockey bag, while relaxing for the summer. He figured they deserved it for what they went through. Much to his delight, a large percentage of the returnees, if not all of them, didn’t entirely heed the advice of the head coach.

“I remember saying last year, when we played so many games in a short amount of time, was to enjoy their summer for a bit,” Chapple said. “Mixing work or school with hockey, and all those games within a short (amount) of time, they needed a break and I wanted them to have a break so they could clear their minds. To find most of them got on the ice in August and got their feet going, was nice to hear.”