Generals lose top players but add strong pieces for new season

Another season, another series of personnel turnover. The Bentley Generals head into the Chinook Hockey League season minus the services of arguably their best two players from the past campaign.

Another season, another series of personnel turnover.

The Bentley Generals head into the Chinook Hockey League season minus the services of arguably their best two players from the past campaign.

But as the Gens bid adieu to forward Cam Maclise, who is attending Mount Royal University as a member of the Cougars, and defenceman Giffen Nyren, who has resumed his pro career in the ECHL, they welcome a handful of new faces including several with pro experience.

“We’re going to miss Nyren and Maclise, but I think we’re going to like what we have,” said Generals manager Jeff McInnis, whose club opens regular season play Sunday versus the host Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs.

Included among the newcomers are six-foot-three defenceman Colton Hayes and six-two rearguard Tyler Brenner, both of whom played in the ECHL last winter.

“I’ve been talking to Colton for a couple of years,” said McInnis. “His fiancee is working in Calgary so he shut his pro dream down a little earlier than he’d planned because of his ties at home.

“He’s a young man at 25 and we’re blessed to have him. He’ll be a big part of our blueline this season.”

Brenner, an Ontario native, signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs following three years of U.S. college hockey. He played 29 games with the AHL Toronto Marlies and was in the ECHL the past two seasons.

“He’s a big, right-handed kid who will also help our offence,” said McInnis. “We’ll enjoy having him around.”

Red Deer native Graeme Craig is another big signing, in more than one way. The six-foot-five defenceman and Red Deer minor hockey product is red-shirting with the U of Alberta Golden Bears this season and adds size and major junior and pro experience to the Bentley blueline.

Craig played five seasons in the WHL with Swift Current, Saskatoon and Prince Albert and signed with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013. He played six games in the AHL and was with the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors most of last season.

“He was chasing his pro dream, but felt like he got as far as he was going to go,” said McInnis. “He’s a smart kid and he realized he’s better use his (WHL) scholarship money and get to school. We’re lucky to have him for this season.”

The Generals were the beneficiaries of the Okotoks Drillers demise after two years in the Chinook League, with forwards Jesse Todd and Mike Kneeland switching uniforms. Todd was third in league scoring last season with 23 goals — a league best — and 36 points in 24 games, while Kneeland finished fifth with 35 points (10-25).

“I talked to Jesse a couple of years ago after he had played in the ECHL,” said Maclise. “He told me at the time that he’d be playing in Okotoks.

“When Okotoks folded this year I contacted him again and he was quick to come. It was a pretty easy transition. Both he and Kneeland are quality players.”

Thomas Heemskerk has come on board this season to give the Gens a solid one-two punch between the pipes. He joins returnee Dustin Butler.

Heemskerk blocked pucks in the WHL with Kootenay and Moose Jaw, turning a terrific season as a 20-year-old into a contract with the San Jose Sharks.

“He was up and down in their organization, then had a bit of a hip issue last year and didn’t play,” said MacInnis. “He missed the game and welcomed the opportunity to come here. He’s working and living in this area and he’s going to be a big piece of our team.”

Also new to the Generals are forwards Greg Gardner, who was in the ECHL last winter, and Jordan Peddle, a four-year WHL defenceman who attended the University of Saskatchewan for one year and last season was in the Southern Pro League.

The Generals thought they had lost forward Torrie Dyck, who last season scored 10 goals and added 10 assists in 20 games, but he’s agreed to commute from his home in Saskatoon — where he’s taken a new job — to play weekend games with his old club.

In addition to the new players, the Bentley roster also features the likes of key returning veterans Don Morrison, Curtis Austring, Kyle Sheen, Kyle Bailey and Brett Thurston.

The Generals’ home-opener is Oct. 24 against the Chiefs.