OLDS —The emphasis is on a bigger, more mobile defence as the Olds Grizzlys prepare for another Alberta Junior A Hockey League season — whenever that may be.
“That was the number one weakness on the team last year. That’s not just defencemen, the whole team struggled to defend,” Grizzlys head coach and GM Scott Atkinson said during an interview.
Hence most signings announced have been defencemen.
“At the end of the day, we need to get better defensively. That’s the quickest way for us to improve,” he said.
Atkinson also noted five 20-year-olds aged out of the Grizzlys this season, so of course they had to be replaced.
Over the past few weeks, the Grizzlys have announced a flurry of signings.
Ryan Hiscock born in 2002 signed a letter of intent. The 5’10” defenceman was captain of the South Side Athletic Club of the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL).
“Ryan is a solid two-way defenceman with a great first pass and is a leader on and off the ice,” a post on the Grizzlys website says.
Brayden Koch, born in 2002, is another acquisition. Atkinson estimates his size as 5’11, 170 pounds. Last season, he was a defenceman for the Lloydminster Bobcats of the AMHL.
Kieran Raymond, also born in 2002, is a 6’2”, 185-pound defenceman from Sherwood Park who was team captain of the Sherwood Park Ennis Kings of the AMHL.
Riley See, a Sherwood Park native born in 2003 is listed as 5’6” and weighing 145 pounds. He played centre for the Sherwood Park Ennis Kings of the AMHL.
See was also a Grizzlys affiliate player last season. He played in five regular season games and four playoff games for the team.
Sundre native Tristan Baumung, who was born in 2003, also signed a letter of intent to play for the Grizzlys.
The defenceman, listed as 6’1” and weighing 190 pounds, played last year for the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs of the AMHL.
Baumung was another Grizzlys affiliate player. He appeared in two regular season and two playoff games with the Grizzlys.
Hale Schoneck, born in 2002, had also signed a letter of intent with the Grizzlys.
The defenceman who stands 6’3” and weighs about 210 pounds, was the assistant captain of the Calgary Buffaloes and was named to the AMHL’s second all star team.
The Buffaloes were champions of the league’s south division.
Asked whether the team needs defensive or offensive defencemen or a mix of both, Atkinson said, “we need to defend better. That can come in a variety of different packages.
“Obviously it’s an advantage if we’re a little bit longer and a little big bigger in the back end, but we also have to be able to be mobile and move the puck.”
Atkinson noted two guys who had served as defencemen for the Grizzlys — Joel Shoemaker and Payton McDonald–Corea — will be playing forward next season.
Atkinson said that gives the team a lot of flexibility “because our defence is sort of a hockey version of pitching; you can never have enough of it.”
Atkinson stressed that decision wasn’t made without getting buy-in from both players.
“We wouldn’t ask a player to sacrifice his natural position if we and they didn’t believe it would be in their best interest,” he said.
Tristan Martin a 6’2” 180-pound goaltender from St. Vincent, Alta., also signed with the Grizzlys. He played for the Lloydminster Bobcats of the AMHL last season.
An opening in net has occurred now that 19-year-old Duncan Hughes has decided to pursue post-secondary education.
“I think he’s one of the top goalies in the Alberta major midget league last year,” he said.
“He played on a weak team, but he was very good and so I think that sometimes that’s a good place to find a goalie; a goalie who’s been forced to perform behind a weaker team. I think that’s good for their development,” he said.