Pirates excited to be back on the ice

Daily Herald File Photo Forward Ashton Tait, seen here during a Prince Albert Venice House Pirates game against the Swift Current Broncos in February 2020 at the Kinsmen Arena, is one of three local players joining the Prince Albert Mintos next year.

While a start date for the 2020-21 season has still yet to be determined, the Prince Albert Venice House Pirates are in good spirits as they begin their practices for the upcoming Saskatchewan Under-15 AA Hockey League campaign.

“The kids are so excited right now,” Pirates head coach Rod Dallman said. “There was a lot of enthusiasm during the tryout process and I think everyone’s ready to get back playing games and resume some sense of normalcy.

“They just want to get back out on the ice. That’s the main thing. We know that we’re going to have a lot of practice time before the season gets started and I think that’s really going to benefit all of the kids in the province. Sometimes we start to outcoach ourselves and get into systems so fast that the kids’ development starts to slow down a little bit.”

While last week’s training camp was an extremely competitive one, some of the restrictions and protocols that have been put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic made for slightly different atmospheres at the Art Hauser Centre and the Kinsmen Arena.

“During a normal camp, you can feel the excitement in the stands from the parents and the grandparents, so that was one thing that was really lacking during the week,” Dallman said. “The other big difference was that the kids themselves are coming to the rink already dressed and they couldn’t use the dressing rooms. It seemed very businesslike in that sense.

“When it came to the actual on-ice portion of the game, you could just feel how excited everyone was to be playing hockey again after the long summer. Everyone seemed to be much more focused and ready to play compared to previous years.”

Seven players are back from last year’s team, which in sixth place in the then named Saskatchewan Bantam AA Hockey League North Division with a 20-10-1 record before losing in the first round of the post-season to the Saskatoon Generals in three games.

Goaltender Jayden Kraus and blueliners Luc Bourdon and Dayne Henry are back with the club, along with forwards Lee Burden, Ashton Tait, Van Taylor and Eric Ward.

“That experience is invaluable, but we also have the same amount of first year players that we did a year ago, so we’re pretty excited about how the team is shaping up,” Dallman said.

“We did lose four defenceman from last year’s roster, so there are some holes that we have to fill there, but I like our depth at forward and our goaltending is very strong.”

Dallman is expecting the Under-15 circuit to be very competitive once again this season, especially with the talent that’s scattered throughout the province.

“The Saskatoon teams look to be deep once again and in talking to the Warman Wildcats’ coach (Cam Kayter), they only have a couple of first-year players on their roster, so they feel like they are going to have a very strong team,” Dallman said.

“Everything really tightens up when you get to this level, which makes for an exciting league.”

One player that won’t be in the Under-15 ranks this season is highly-touted forward Berkly Catton, who is considered by many to be the best player available for the 2021 Western Hockey League Draft.

After finishing fourth in league scoring as an underage player last year with 108 points in 30 games for the Saskatoon Bandits, Catton will be moving up to the Under-18 ranks to play for a Saskatoon Contacts side that also features top WHL prospects Riley Heidt, Kalan Lind and Brayden Yager.