The Portage Terriers are back on the ice for their final day of training camp today. Head coach and general manager Blake Spiller says they skipped the rookie camp this year and went straight into the main camp portion due to a conflict with the WHL. He believes this will work in their favour.
"We're going to see our returning guys as well as the guys that we acquired throughout the summer. Obviously, we'll have some younger guys who just graduated or are still playing under 18. They will come in to compete for a spot as well. It's a little bit more 'get right at it' as opposed to going from rookie camp to main camp. With the year that we're having, I think it's probably beneficial for us to get going right away into the main camp."
The Dogs are hosting the 2023 Centennial Cup, and Spiller says, after hosting in 2015, he and the rest of the staff are ready for the challenge ahead.
"You just have to have patience with the process of how it goes. We know what it takes to have a good club at that tournament. We have a lot of returning guys that we're excited to see. We had a little bit of a tough year last year just because we were so young, and we're definitely looking forward to those guys being more mature. Along with the acquisitions we made, we know we're in a lot better situation to start this year as opposed to last."
The head coach notes they know they can't get too ahead of themselves, and while the organization knows they will be playing in May, winning games is still the most important thing.
The Terriers had one of the youngest rosters in the league last season, with just one 20-year-old on the entire roster. At this point, Portage already has seven players in their final year of eligibility with the ability to add one more.
Spiller says they plan to use that spot eventually and notes he will be willing to make moves if they can improve or are in need of a change before the trade deadline on January 10.
With many more veterans in the locker room this year, the main voice behind the bench discusses what that will do to his approach.
"Most of the guys we had come in last year were all new to us. We scouted them but when they play at the junior level, it's a different ball game. We weren't really sure what we had last year, which was different for us," Spiller continues. "This year, with 16 or 17 players returning, it's nice to have guys that know what we're about. So, we don't really have to start from scratch, and we can get more into the various systems early as opposed to starting fresh."
Two members of the Terriers roster took part in the Centennial Cup last year, both being a part of the host Estevan Bruins squad in Kian Calder and Jamie Valentino. While the Bruins didn't fare as well as they hoped in that tournament, Spiller believes these players will help the club immensely.
"These guys won the SJHL Championship. I know their tournament in Estevan as the host didn't go as well as they hoped but I'm sure they'll have an incentive to make sure that the tournament in Portage goes better for the local team," Spiller explains. "We've got some other guys like Noah Wagner who's returning from the North American Hockey League and the deal we did for Monteith, the goaltender, will help stabilize that position along with (Jayden) Catellier."
The Terriers are less than two weeks away from their regular season opener in Selkirk and are set to host their preseason opener on Tuesday against the Virden Oil Capitals.