The Dawson Creek Junior Canucks kicked off their exhibition schedule last night at the Memorial Arena with a 7-4 loss at the hands of the visiting Sexsmith Vipers.
The result is not as bad as it sounds for the Junior Canucks, who sat most of their top players for the game to get a better look at the guys competing for spots in the bottom-six. But head coach Eric Fulton wasn't content to lean on the built-in excuse after the game.
"You still want the guys that are out there to compete, and you still want results from whoever's wearing your jersey. I didn't think we got that," Fulton told Boys On The Bus. "On the other hand, you also know that there's a good portion of your team still sitting out who could have helped out."
Despite the score, Fulton thought there were a number of positives in the game. It all comes down to consistency. "We played pretty inconsistent, but when we played well, when we did the things we were supposed to, we pretty much had it our way in the game. When we let go and slacked off, [Sexsmith] just took advantage of their opportunities."
No one had a more difficult night than goaltender Colton Anderson, who allowed five goals in the first 25 minutes of play. Anderson was cut from the club following the loss, the first casualty of this year's improved depth at all positions, as a number of returning players from last year's squad are fighting tooth and nail to hang onto their spots on the roster.
In what could eventually prove to be bad news for returning forwards, a pair of hopefuls to make the club had big nights, as Marc Readman and Chetwynd's own Trevor Whynot both put up two-goal performances. Whynot got Dawson Creek on the board in the first period and was one of the most exciting players on the ice. Readman, who made a handful of appearances with the club last year as an AP call-up from the Northeast Trackers, was instrumental in making it a close game early in the third.
Fulton singled out Readman, along with newcomer Ryan McCallum and veteran Connor Rose, for having strong games up front. While Whynot had the crowd buzzing all night, his coach offered some constructive criticism for the shifty speedster. "He did really well, but he struggled a little bit with how long he held on to the puck. He'll learn that, though." The Whitehorse-born forward's blazing speed was obvious to all in attendance. For Fulton, it's a matter of teaching him to use it better. "He'll be able to use his speed more, because he can skate faster without the puck than he can with it. If he's got that kind of speed, he's got to head-man the puck and get to open ice, and he'll find that he won't be getting knocked down so much, too."
Daxton Reitsma came into camp as a forward, but was tried at defense after an impressive showing in Friday's intrasquad game. If the team lacks depth at any position this season it's on D, and a utility player who can capably play both positions would certainly be useful. "I knew he was capable back there, but I thought he played very well," said Fulton. "It's good for him, he's versatile, he's smart, he's solid on his skates and he plays the game with his head. It's good to have a kid like that on the team."
Adam Huttema made the move to forward from defense late last season, and is capable of going back to his old position in a pinch. The team would rather leave Huttema up front however, where his tenacity on the forecheck and willingness to throw his weight around is more effective.
Fulton and General Manager Ashley Rude are in no rush to get down to the NWJHL roster limit, having until December 10th to trim their 35-man squad down to the 25-man max. Still, it's safe to assume a number of regulars will sit this Thursday against the Grande Prairie JDA Kings as well, as the coaching staff gets a better look at guys fighting for spots.
The regular season begins in just six days, with the NWJHL season opener set for Saturday, September 21st as the Junior Canucks take on their Peace Region rival Fort St. John Huskies at home in the Memorial Arena.
You can catch that game, and every game all season long, on Peace FM, your official broadcaster of the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks.