This week at the Blazers Ice Centre was one of the most anticipated times of the hockey season, the beginning of training camp. Training camp provides coaches and fans alike the opportunity to get a look at their new team as they get set for the upcoming season. For the Oklahoma city Blazers in particular, it brought together some familiar faces and new faces to the locker room.
Oklahoma City saw a total of 14 players age out at the end of last season, resulting in many positions needing to be filled by head coach Tyler Fleck for 2016-17. This season, a new crop of skilled and speedy players have made their way to Oklahoma City.
One of the very first things I noticed at camp was the pace of the players was much higher. Shots seemed harder, players were skating by faster, and the mood was electric. One of the Blazers top-three forwards in Points Per Game last season, Ivan Bondarenko noted that the skill level was so high in camp, he felt he needed to work much harder to keep up.
In net, the Blazers lost both of their goaltenders due to age and have a new group in camp. Goalie Drennen Atherton joins the Blazers from the Eastern Hockey League, and noted the level of play was much higher as well, compared to what he saw last season.
With returning players like Bondarenko, Tomas Rubes, Jared Guffey, and a familiar face from the Blazers inaugural season in forward Victor Ekk, shows that Oklahoma City is a prime destination to play hockey, and brings along a skill level to compete with the top teams in the league and the nation. A lot of credit needs to be given to Coach Fleck and the rest of the staff in working to bring in a group that can maintain and even exceed the level of play that we’ve come to know from the Blazers these past two seasons.
As training camp winds down, the Blazers will have a few weeks to prepare for their season opener on October 14th in Wichita against the Jr. Thunder. As players begin getting in to game shape and learning the systems, the level of play this season will be sight to see.