The tang of fall is just detectable in the early morning air these days and if that has you dreading winter then read no further because there’s ice in the twin arenas and men in skates are throwing their sticks to centre ice in hopes their stick gets pulled by the ‘Roos.
The ‘Roos’ try outs spilled over three evenings in a chilly Twin Arenas last week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Win Winofsky, who ran the first two try outs, worked the players hard to see what they were made of. They ran sprints, raced around the rink, played hard and did push ups when they were scored against and when their chests were pumping, mouths open and gulping air, and their faces were as red as the line at centre ice, Winofsky made them start all over again.
With more players than last year taking to the ice, around 30 or about five or six more than last year according to Waylon L’Heureux a member of the Kangaroos executive, the try outs brought in a good selection of players.
Of the 30 on the ice, the team managed to retain roughly fourteen of the players from last year’s team.
All the players, old and new, have proven themselves solid during the try out process, with which L’Heureux is pleased.
“Everything seems to be rolling really well, most of the players seem to be pretty committed,” L’Heureux said.
The team is looking to replace the players they lost to T.R.U., along with those who have found their schedule too full this winter to give up the required time to be part of the team.
The ex-players were not the only ones unable to make the try outs, however.
Some players, like Brayden Penner who was at camp during the try outs, unable to make the tryouts for work-related reasons. So the week of try outs has not winnowed the team down to a definitive line-up of players.
Instead, the coaches will play around with lines in the coming practices. The try outs were scheduled a month before the beginning of the season to allow the coaches extra time with the new team and to allow enough leeway for those whose work schedule overlaps their hockey schedule, L’Heureux said.
“There will be a good month to look at the players and figure out the lines,” he said.
With 40 cards available for players, L’Heureux doesn’t expect there to be many cuts.
Only 20 of the carded players will be allowed to dress for each game though, while the extra players will practicee with the ‘Roos to stay sharp in case of injuries to players in the regular line-up.
Win Winofsky ran the first two of the three tryouts, but that will be the extent of his coaching for this year.
Though he said he will be available to help the team out as much as his schedule allows, Winofsky has decided not to coach the ‘Roos this year, leaving a significant vacancy behind the bench.
The ‘Roos have, however, managed to fill the vacancy.
Chosen at the AGM last month, Brian Kozak has been tapped to take the ‘Roos into the next season.
“Brian fit in very well with his past coaching and his player contacts,” L’Heureux said.
Kozak, who coached the bantam Thunder last year, is looking forward to coaching the Kangaroos.
“It’s always an honour to represent your city,” Kozak said.
“There’s three things I’m excited about: I am coaching for a city I love; I’m coaching really good talent, some of whom I coached in junior hockey; and I’m coaching men, which will be fun.”
Though he was unable to attend the first two tryouts last week due to being out of town, Kozak was able to make the final try out and is now focused on refining and getting to know the team in September practices.
The teamwork on the ice, along with stories Kozak heard last year skating with some of the players, is encouraging and foreshadows a good year, he said.
The next goal for Kozak, and by extension for the team, is to decide how far they want to go.
“I have to find out what they want as a group, if they say we want to do well and finish in the top three, or whatever that goal may be, we make a plan up and figure out how much work it’ll take, how much dedication,” Kozak said.
“We all have families, so we’re dealing with a whole different thing. So as a group we have to decide and from there we put a plan together. Once the guys buy into the plan and come together as a team that’s half the battle. Then from there it’s figuring out how we’re going to play the game, what’s going to be our identity.”
Steve Williams has also left the Roos, leaving the assistant coach position empty.
The executive has not named a replacement for the departing assistant coach, wanting to talk with Kozak about the decision first.
“What the board did, they have a list of candidates and now were going to sit down and talk with a few of these candidates and see if they’re interested in being a part of this,” Kozak said.
Now the team is focused on coming back this year and making it as exciting as last year.
“With the ‘Roos coming back here last year they had some incredible support. We want to pay them back for that. We want to put the best team that we can on the ice,” he said.
The new season begins in October when the freshly minted ‘Roos face off against the Kitimat Ice Demons here in Quesnel Oct. 13.