An extremely competitive training camp with improved depth at every position has been both a blessing and a curse for the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks, as an influx of talented fresh faces means heart-wrenching decisions for the coaching staff.
On Saturday, the hammer fell on the first of those decisions. Goaltender Colton Anderson was cut from the club following a difficult pre-season outing that saw him allow five goals in the first 25 minutes of play.
Anderson, who became the team's de facto starter last season in the wake of a season-ending injury to star goalie David Readman, struggled with consistency for much of the year, but was absolutely stellar with the season on the line against the Fairview Flyers in the 2013 Playoffs. It's hard to believe that the young man who won the 2012/13 Team Award for Most Improved Player some six months ago won't suit up for a single game this season.
Head Coach Eric Fulton knew decisions like this would come eventually. On the opening day of training camp, Fulton told Peace FM during his weekly radio segment that the massive turnout of talent was "Good for the team, bad for my heart," dreading the inevitability of having to cut players he'd become emotionally invested in over the past few years.
Despite the poor showing in his first game action of the year, Coach Fulton said it was still hard to see Anderson go. "He's a competitor, he wants to do well. He's a good kid, he's a solid kid in the room. I just think the talent level [on the team] has definitely risen this year."
With a season of Junior B under his belt, it's easy to forget that Anderson only started playing hockey three short years ago. His wild rise through the ranks isn't lost on the coach who let him go. "You know, for what he's done in a short amount of time playing goal... It's incredible to me," said Fulton. "But there's still some hard cuts to make in our net. He's the second to go out of the six or seven [goalies] that we had, but we've still got to get down to three and that's going to be even harder from here."
While the team lost a key player from last year's roster in the cut, they've instantly gained a huge fan. In an official statement issued to Boys On The Bus, Anderson was classy to the bitter end, appreciative of all the chances and experiences the team has offered him over the last year:
Anderson wasn't the first goalie cut this weekend, or even the first net-minder to play for last year's team to be released. Rylan Battensby -- a goaltender on tryout in Dawson Creek from Drayton Valley, Alberta -- was served his walking papers following Friday's intrasquad game, while Kaden Bouchard, who started four games for the team last year as an affiliate call-up, was the first cut out of training camp.
There are still a number of forwards who will be cut from the club in the months to come, as the team has until December 10th to get down to the initial 25-man roster limit, with a 23-man limit imposed on January 10th, 2014. There are currently 34 players on the Junior Canucks' roster, but Fulton warned not to expect any immediate cuts as far as skaters go. Two key factors will play themselves out over the next 86 days: injuries, and commitment.
"There's some guys on the team that were here last year and didn't finish the year, or quit halfway through. We've got to make sure that everybody that we keep has their heads in the right spot and is here for the long haul. It can't just be a little bit of fun and then people leave when things get difficult. When it gets to those tough times and we've got guys fighting through it, we'll know by that time who those people are."