When the veterans took the ice on Wednesday for the first time outside of practices, Soo Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis said the group entered action and set a tone.
That tone continued on Friday night as the team held its annual Red/White game at the GFL Memorial Gardens and it was the group of overage players that looked to set the bar even higher.
“When you see that ’03 (birth-year), ’02, and OA group, those are our best players and when your best players set the tone, it just drives the entire camp,” said Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis. “It doesn’t matter what a coach says or what I can say, if they’re not taking it seriously, it just sucks the energy right out of camp.
“Part of it is the layoff, but another part of it is that’s just who they are,” Raftis added. “They love to play hockey and when they get a chance to play, they’re competitive. They’re pushing each other. That’s what has us so excited about this year. It’s a special group that way.”
Of the 16 goals scored in regulation time, 11 were scored by returning players, including three-goal performances from overage candidates Tye Kartye and Joe Carroll.
Following the game, the Greyhounds announced 14 players have been released/reassigned.
Among the group were goaltenders Coulter Taylor and Colton Donaldson.
The decision means the Greyhounds will open the season with 2003 birth-year Samuel Ivanov and 2004 birth-year Charlie Schenkel between the pipes.
“As the week went on, they got a lot better,” Raftis said of the duo. “They had a lot of those intangibles that we were looking for in a goaltender through their compete, their fitness testing and the work they put into it. They’re both young goalies, but they have great size, a good feel for it, and skate well. They just battled more and more as the week went on. To be fair to everybody, it was a long week and guys were getting tired, but for them, they just kept bringing it to another level every day.”
The remainder of the group released/reassigned following the game included defencemen Caleb Van De Ven, Austin Fellinger, Cole Williamson, Blair Scott, and Nathaniel Davis, as well as forwards Jax Bellwood, Rhys Chiddenton, Owen Parsons, Justin Spurrell, Henry Brock, James Johnson, and Jackson Ryan.
In addition to the veterans remaining, rookie defencemen Andrew Gibson, Connor Toms, Luc Brzustowski, and Caedan Carlisle made the team.
“With Gibson, it’s a case of we want him in a situation where if he can push to play here all year, that’s great,” Raftis said. “He’s going to be a really special player for us going forward. He has a really high ceiling as a player.”
“For him, it’s going to be crucial to get in as many reps after missing a lot of time last year whether it’s with the (Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Soo Thunderbirds) or with us,” Raftis added. “That’s why it’s exciting to get him done here now and see what he has for us.”
Raftis said Carlisle brings a “really interesting element for us that we were intrigued by.”
“He skates well, and he moves pucks well, but he’s got a real physical edge to his game,” Raftis added. “We felt that with the D corps we have and the other players we have in place that he would be a really good compliment to the group.”
The forward group includes rookies Owen Allard, Ethan Montroy, and Landon Hookey in addition to previously signed prospects Justin Cloutier, Jordan D’Intino, Tyler Savard, Bryce McConnell-Barker, and Marco Mignosa.
Some decisions remain to be made as the team will add overage defenceman Billy Constantinou to the mix once the veteran is cleared to join the club.
Constantinou didn’t start camp with the club as he awaited clearance following completion of the league’s vaccine requirements.
The team also has import defenceman Kirill Kudryavtsev in the mix.
The Russian blueliner signed with the team during the summer and will join the team when COVID restrictions regarding people from overseas entering Canada allows him to make the trek to the Sault.
“After that, we just have to wait on some Visa things to go through,” Raftis said. “It’s not so much a hockey question or anything like that. It’s going to be when we get approval on all of that stuff. We can’t do a ton of work until that point.”
With the final decisions being made to get the roster down to 26 players currently, not including Constantinou and Kudryavtsev, Raftis said the final decisions were tougher than they have been in previous years at camp.
“As much as we know these players from their draft years, we just didn’t have that same sample size of that last eight months,” Raftis said. “You have an idea of where players are at, whether it’s effort they put in or the maturity in their game, but you don’t know until you hit the ice.”
“There are always surprises at training camp, but this year was a wait and see because you weren’t sure what you were going to get out of each individual player,” Raftis added. “Everybody says they’re doing the right things, but as soon as they hit the ice, that doesn’t lie.”
The Greyhounds will open up exhibition action on Sunday afternoon at the GFL Memorial Gardens against the Sudbury Wolves.