The Moose Jaw Warriors tried something different with their spring camp this year and the early returns are positive for the Development Camp.
The Warriors hosted 26 of the team's top prospects for the camp over the weekend. Instead of the usual scrimmage filled weekend, the Warriors took the approach of focusing on player development over the two days of on-ice sessions.
"It went excellent," said Warriors head coach Tim Hunter. "All the NHL teams do this type of thing, they don't just watch their players scrimmage, they give them some skills to work on and especially some skills that they feel are important to the success of their team and the success of the individual."
Over the course of the two days, the players did some video sessions, had four on-ice sessions and also went through fitness testing.
Hunter is hoping that the players will be able to take some of what they worked on and implement it into their training over the summer in preparation for training camp in August.
"Everything's got a purpose, you practice with a purpose and you do individual skills with a purpose and these guys all want to get better and you have to guide them through it," said Hunter.
"Just playing the game is good at times, but they need to work on specific skills and get lots of reps doing them, so less drills, more reps and that way they're able to find a groove and have success in the drill or skill that they're trying to do."
Also as part of the camp on the weekend, the players went through a nutrition session where they cooked their own pre-game meals and the parents were given a crash course on everything about the organization, from billeting to the education program.
When it comes to the action on the ice, 16-year-old Peyton McKenzie had a strong camp, showing the tenacious game that he brings. McKenzie said with this being his second spring camp with the Warriors, he felt a bit more comfortable this time around.
"You can soak up more experience and have more fun without being nervous and everything like that," said McKenzie.
"I thought the change to the camp was great, we got to talk to the coaches more and they gave us a lot of help and it just helped all around."
McKenzie isn't the biggest player on the ice, standing in at five-foot-seven and 161 pounds, but he battles and has the skill to go with it after posting 22 goals and 50 points in 35 games with the OHA Edmonton Midget Prep.
"I just try to go out, be as fast as I can, try to create a bunch of energy and have a fun time doing it," said McKenzie, who was a third round pick by the Warriors in 2017.
The Warriors' 2018 first round pick Eric Alarie showed well in his first camp with Moose Jaw. He said that he was able to take a lot away that will help him over the summer.
"I was surprised with how competitive the camp was, every player gave it their all and I think I did good," said Alarie. "It was good play against some older guys, it makes you better and shows where I need to get my game to."
Alarie is a big forward that uses his size to his advantage and also has a nose for the net. Coming out of the weekend, he said that he can see where he needs to improve over the summer.
"It's all about the little things, everyone here has talent, so the best players are the ones that focus on the little things," he said.
Fellow member of the 2018 draft class, Kirk Mullen from Moose Jaw got his first taste of the WHL during this weekend's camp.
He's coming away happy with how he handled himself throughout the four on-ice sessions.
"I learned a lot and I took it all in, I took in the whole experience," said Mullen. "The tempo was great. This was a high-end development camp and I had to pick up my pace to keep up."
16-year-old defenceman Caleb Cordas came up to Moose Jaw from Newport Beach, California for the camp. He said the weekend was an eye-opening experience.
"I felt it went good, it was good to showcase my stuff in front of WHL coaches and scouts because coming up from California, you don't get that opportunity as much, so it was fun, you had to work hard and there was a lot of skill out there," said Cordas.
"I felt like my skill matched up with a lot of the guys and I worked hard out there to compete with them."
Cordas had two goals, six points and 58 penalty minutes in 35 games with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks 18U team last season. He's a smooth skating defender that has good size.
Coming out of the camp, Cordas said that he learned a lot that will help him moving forward.
"Coach Hunter helped us a lot out here, same with the assistant coaches, gave us a lot of tips for defence, what to do on the point and getting your shots through," said Cordas.
Hunter came away pleased with how the young players handled either their first WHL camp or pushing themselves in their second time around.
"The scouts do a great job of bringing quality, character kids in here with lots of skill and good hockey IQ and there was a lot of that out here," said Hunter. "The kids were a little nervous the first day and a little rusty, but by (Saturday) afternoon, they were comfortable and enjoying themselves."
The Warriors will now turn their attention to the CHL Import Draft at the end of this month and then training camp opens at the end of August.