The Squamish Wolf Pack kicked off their inaugural season last week with a three-day evaluation camp in Whistler, inviting all eligible players to come out and show what they can do. More than 40 players answered the open invitation, including several players from Whistler’s Midget and Bantam teams.
Three of those Whistler skaters, defencemen Eric Smith and Brandon Combs, and forward Jesse Clemiss, earned invites to the main Wolf Pack training camp that gets underway on Aug. 21. A handful of Squamish players have also been invited to the team, including two forwards from the now defunct Squamish Cougars, Jeremy Ennis and Mike Bosa.
Head coach Matt Samson is hoping to invite up to 60 skaters to the Wolf Pack training camp in Squamish, where the field will be narrowed down to roughly 25 skaters after several days of scrimmaging.
“We had a great turnout and a good camp up in Whistler, and we’re very happy with it,” he said. “Those kids (Smith, Coombs and Clemiss) will come to our main camp, hopefully, and battle for spots. A lot of the Whistler kids showed up to the camp, and I had a meeting afterwards to explain why they weren’t invited to the main camp, which is always tough.
“The good thing is that a lot of them are young and have another year of playing Midget at least, so they’ll have somewhere to go and play hockey and work at making the cut at next year’s camp. In the meantime they had a chance to see where they stack up against guys who’ve played some junior, either Junior B or WHA or some form of junior hockey.”
Samson’s goal this year is to make the playoffs by finishing in the top four out of five teams in the Tom Shaw Conference of the 10-team Pacific International Junior Hockey League — a Junior B level league that’s affiliated with the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Players range from 16 to 20 years old, although there are limits to how many 16-year-old players a team can dress.
He doesn’t know what the look of the first year Wolf Pack will be in the end, but he knows what he’s looking for on the ice.
“I have to keep working and recruiting players and stay on top of things through the summer so we can have a good camp in August and find our team there,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have a very competitive team. I’m looking for a team that’s fast, that’s aggressive, that won’t sit back and wait for the other teams to make mistakes. The guys I’m looking for can move the puck, skate, and get into the corners. I’m looking for some physical players as well, and of course good goaltending helps any team be better.”
Goaltending will be a challenge, says Samson, as his goalie from the Squamish Cougars was injured during the evaluation camp. A few young goalies from Squamish played well, but Samson says he would have liked to have seen more players at the tryouts.
“It’s a hard position to fill because you only really get to carry two goalies, maybe three at the start of the season. In the end we’re likely going to go with the guys who perform the best at the camp,” he said.
The District of Squamish and the community has been supportive of the team, says Samson, as have Midget level coaches from the Sea to Sky corridor.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to is really happy and looking forward to the season,” he said. “The community has already shown that they wanted and supported junior hockey, but there were some problems with the WHA that were disappointing for people. The Wolf Pack will be a better product, in a stable league, and we can guarantee great teams showing up for home games on Saturday nights in Brennan Park.”
The Wolf Pack’s schedule will be set over the next month, and Samson is working with Whistler’s Midget team to host a game at Meadow Park Arena, likely against the Delta Ice. Details will be announced at the same time as the PIJHL regular season schedule.