Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Western Hockey League in March 2020, Prince Albert Raiders captain Kaiden Guhle has only played in a pair of games for his team.
The Montreal Canadiens first round pick was expected to play a key role for the Raiders during the 2020-21 campaign, but his season came to a sudden halt on March 14 as he suffered a hand injury during a game against the Moose Jaw Warriors and missed the rest of the East Division Hub at the Brandt Centre in Regina.
“I was sidelined for about three months so I couldn’t really do a whole lot,” Guhle said. “I was able to get into the gym right away after the injury, so I was thankful for that, but I wasn’t able to get back out on the ice again until the start of June.
“Once I got back out there, I was pretty much playing catch up from the time that I missed and I was getting on the ice as much as I could.”
Those extra on-ice sessions were important for Guhle to have as he attended Hockey Canada’s World Junior Summer Camp in Calgary last month.
“That was a big test for me as I didn’t really know how that week was going to go,” Guhle said.
“It was huge for me to be out there with the guys in Calgary as it almost felt like I had gone through another COVID year with the amount of time I had off.”
A silver medal winner at last year’s event, Guhle is expected to be one of the key leaders for Canada’s squad at the 2022 tournament, which will be held in Edmonton and Red Deer and is expected to have fans this time around.
“One of my roles during the camp was to help the younger guys feel as comfortable as possible,” said Guhle, who could be joined by goaltender Dylan Garand, defenceman Jamie Drysdale and forwards Quinton Byfield and Cole Perfetti as a returning player for Canada. “I know that when I went to my first World Junior camp last year, it was a little overwhelming at times, especially with how many good players were there.
“The group of the guys that we had at the summer camp was really talented and I was familiar with many of them from when we played at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2019. We also got to be around the guys from the Under-18 camp during that week and it was special to be around some great young players.”
After taking part in the Raiders training camp at the Art Hauser Centre this week, Guhle will be heading to Brossard, Que. for the Canadiens rookie camp, which runs from Sept. 15-21.
“That’s going to be my first pro camp with Montreal as I ended up going straight to Laval last year (to play with the Rocket of the American Hockey League) and we went straight into getting ready for the season,” Guhle said.
“I’m looking forward to diving right in with them and learning a lot from the veteran guys from the team. There were a lot of things that I learned during my time in Laval last year, especially when it came to the speed of the game and trying to limit your mistakes. If you make just one little mistake, it’s going to end up in the back of the net.”
Before he left Prince Albert, Guhle joined the other veteran players on the Raiders in giving pointers to the younger skaters on the roster, who are gearing up for the Green and White Game at 1 p.m. on Saturday and the first pre-season contest of the campaign next Friday against the Regina Pats.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve been trying to preach to them is just the speed of the game in the WHL and how important playing with speed is for how we do things here in Prince Albert,” Guhle said.
“I remember that during my first camp here I was trying to get used to the speed and I think it’s important to learn that right away in camp. Everyone’s fast in the WHL and you need to be prepared for that at both ends of the ice.”
In addition to Guhle, three other Raiders will be taking part in pro camps over the next couple of weeks.
Forwards Ozzy Wiesblatt and Reece Vitelli are currently with the San Jose Sharks and the Arizona Coyotes respectively, while Nolan Allan and Landon Kosior will be traveling south to join the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings in the coming days.