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Warriors coach O’Leary happy with opening day of training camp

Fitness testing, two practices highlight first full training camp since 2019 for Western Hockey League club
The Moose Jaw Warriors are back on the ice.

The local Western Hockey League club took to the blades at Mosaic Place for their first two practices of training camp on Wednesday afternoon, hours after taking part in their annual fitness testing regime.

And from all reports, it’s all guns a blazing right from first puck drop.

“I think we’re all pretty excited, the guys all did a great job today,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary after the second practice session. “The biggest thing is the nerves, I think once you get rid of the nerves you start to see better hockey and that was the idea today. Get the fitness testing out of the way, have a bit of fun do a bit of work in practice and we’re looking forward to the game (Thursday).”

Warriors captain Daemon Hunt felt much the same way about the team’s first steps into the 2021-22 campaign.

“It was great, it’s always good to come back and it felt like a really long off-season,” Hunt said. “So it’s just really nice to be back in the city, being on the ice and being in the rink and it’s awesome… it’s just a good feeling to be back in Moose Jaw.”

This season’s training camp will carry a bit of a different air compared to recent outings: the 2019-20 squad was a rookie-laden crew looking to find their way, and 2021 was as abbreviated as they come in the East Division Hub.

Now, it’s time to put the experience they’ve gained the last two seasons to work, something coach O’Leary expects to permeate every aspect of the Warriors’ outlook going forward.

“I think that’s the year we’re in with so many returning players,” said O’Leary, who has 20 members of the Hub team in Moose Jaw this week. “That’s the thing we can say about our team the last two years, I think they’ve gotten real close. They’ve been through some tough times, they’re looking forward to righting the ship now, but they’ve stuck together through it all.

“That, coupled with bringing in the young guys and making them feel comfortable, that’s all part of it. That’s what you want to see, it makes it easier on everybody and that’s what it’s all about.”

Hunt -- a Minnesota Wild draft pick heading into his 19-year-old campaign -- is under no illusion as to what the fans and everyone who follows the team wants to see this year.

“I know there’s a lot of expectations and the pressure is good,” he said.”I think I thrive under pressure, my game just gets better, and I enjoy it as well. It just helps me improve and get better as a player and helps my teammates around me.”

Having such a close crew could have effect on intra-team competitiveness -- especially when it comes to the games this week -- but O’Leary still expects to see the game being played the right way.

“You want to see competition, we’re going to be a tight-knit group, you want everyone to compete had against other but go out for lunch afterwards,” O’Leary said. “That’s what it’s all about and today was a good example.”

The key now is to work through the rest of camp and Sunday’s Black White intrasquad game (4 p.m., Mosaic Place) with an eye to the first pre-season game against Brandon on Sept .14 and the home opener against Saskatoon on Oct. 1

“We won’t be getting into video and things like that until next week, but even here at the end of the practice today, we’re starting to instill into the young guys things we expect to see out of every player and their work habits,” O’Leary said. “The details of the drills, we’ll be coaching those starting now and all through the year and I don’t think that changes.”

Training camp continues Thursday with scrimmages at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., followed by one game at 4 p.m. on Friday and games at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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