From the smaller number of camp attendees to the steady stream of scrimmages, the whole plan was to let the players do their job and ideally make the final decisions for the team brass as tough as they could be.
And when things wrapped up with Team White taking a 4-3 victory over Team Black in the annual intrasquad game on Sunday evening, that’s precisely what head coach Mark O’Leary felt he’d seen from his troops.
“I think what we were hoping for was a competitive camp and that’s exactly what we got,” O’Leary said. “Right from the younger guys coming in and competing for spots and the older guys knowing we have a lot of bodies here jockeying for a position to make the team and get on the line they wanted to be on. Now we’re looking forward to building on it all.”
Players who were taking the ice largely to gain experience will be returning home over the next few days, but the Warriors plan to hold off on the deeper cuts until the vast majority of their National Hockey League camp attendees are back in the city.
“There are lots of opportunities still, we have lots of guys at NHL camps so we’ll have some exhibition games here and some real good practices leading up to them and we’ll be able to let things shake out where they may,” O’Leary said.
It’s still that time of season, though -- players who were with the team in the Hub last year and even the past two campaigns could find themselves on the bubble.
“None of those conversations are easy, that’s for sure,” O’Leary said of the inevitable roster changes in coming days and weeks. “When you sign up for hockey you know it’s all about the compete and sometimes you try as hard as you can for something and you don’t get it. That’s the way of life and certainly the way of hockey, and at the same time, the message is not to stop.”
As for the intrasquad game itself, Team White had goals from Riley Niven, Thomas Tien, Logan Doust and Slovakian import Robert Baco, who arrived in Moose Jaw on Saturday.
Jagger Firkus scored twice for Team Black, Cade Hayes had their other goal.
Brett Mirwald got the start for Team White and gave way to Cameron Doucette in the second period; Carl Tetachuk started for Black and was spelt off by Jackson Unger.
The teams also played a special overtime period, with Brayden Yager scoring for White 14 seconds in.
“I thought it was great,” O’Leary said when asked for his opinion of the Black White Game. “I thought especially the returning players, the challenge to them was to play like a regular-season game. You get a bit of leeway in intrasquad games for the last week, but we wanted to see more of our real team. When you look down and you’re watching, it should stick out when you’re a 19- or 20-year-old and I think they did.”
As for players who made an impression throughout camp, the answer was rather obvious to anyone who checked out the five scrimmages throughout the week.
“I know I’ve talked about Firkus before, but I thought he was the best forward for all of training camp,” lauded O’Leary. “And then our captain, Daemon Hunt. To me, he looks like a pro right now and that’s exciting for our team certainly, and it should be exciting for fans to watch a guy like Daemon play. He’s taken his game to the next level and he looks like a man out there.”
Next up is the first pre-season game of the season against the Brandon Wheat Kings on Tuesday. Game time is 7 p.m. at Mosaic Place, with admission by a donation to the Canadian Mental Health Association in memory of Ethan Williams.
“We’re real excited, especially to be here at Mosaic,” O’Leary said. “It’s been a long time and I know these guys are probably sick to death of playing against each other. So it’ll be nice to see another colour of jersey and I’m looking forward to it.”