It didn’t take long for RDC Kings hockey head coach Trevor Keeper to get down to his final roster.
The Kings opened camp on Aug. 31 and by the following Monday Keeper was down to his final 25, including 15 forwards, seven defencemen and three goaltenders.
Keeper spent a number of hours on the road last season, looking at players from across Western Canada. The majority of his recruits were on hand at the opening of camp.
“We have nine new players and all were recruited,” said Keeper. “I started fairly early last year and then spent a lot of time on the road after our season was over.”
He attended the Western Canada junior A championship as well as the Royal Bank Cup. Defenceman David Heath and forward Regan Wilton both played in the Royal Bank Cup with Melfort. The six-foot-three, 190-pound Heath was team captain and finished the season with eight goals and eight assists in 37 games. He also had three goals and nine helpers in 14 playoff games.
The six-foot-one, 190-pound Wilton, was an assistant captain and had four goals and 15 assists in 34 regular season games and added three goals and eight assists in 14 playoff games.
Blair Mulder, Tanner Butler and Alex Marcinew return on defence with Red Deer native Kirk Johnson, Mike Statchuk and Dylan Baer other newcomers to the blueline.
“We have a good core returning on defence and we’re deeper and more talented,” said Keeper. “Last year we did a good job with some guys on defence who were forwards. This year we have seven legitimate defencemen.”
Johnson, who played two seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL comes to the Kings from the Olds Grizzlys were he had five goals, 14 assists and 84 penalty minutes in 43 games last season.
Statchuk was captain at Battlefords while Baer finished the season with Kindersley after being traded from Yorkton.
Kraymer Barnstable and Mike Salmon return in goal with Devon Fordyce the newcomer.
Barnstable had a 9-9-3 record last season with a 3.05 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage. Salmon, who was injured for most of the season, posted a 6-5-0 record and a 3.84 GAA and .887 save percentage.
Keeper knew Fordyce, having coached him with Team Alberta.
Fordyce played parts of two seasons with Prince George of the WHL before joining the Brooks Bandits in the 2012-13 season and helping them win the Royal Bank Cup. He had a 1.61 GAA and a 10-2-1 record with the Bandits. He joined the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL the following season and then moved around during his 20-year-old season, playing with Okotoks, the OCN Blizzard and Winkler Flyers.
“I like the fact we have three goaltenders,” said Keeper. “Last year we ran into injury problems and Kraymer had to play no matter what. As well the guys will push each other in practice to get playing time.”
Up front, Keeper has four newcomers joining team scoring leader Riley Simpson (20 goals, 14 assists), Pat Martens, Jordan McTaggert, Tyler Berkholtz, Doug Jones, Connor Patchett, Connor Hartley, Brett Printz, Mike Marianchuk and Logan Sceviour.
Newcomers are Wilton, Nick Fountain, who was an assistant captain with Battlefords Stars, Ben Williams, who was captain of the Virden Oil Capitals, and Dylan Thudium of Sylvan Lake, who played in Grande Prairie and Whitecourt.
Williams is the smallest of the group, listed at five-foot-10, 174-pounds, but has offensive skill finishing with 28 goals and 25 assists in 59 games last season.
“He’s smaller, but feisty and talented,” said Keeper, who was looking for size along with skill up front.
“I feel we added talent along with size,” he said. “We lacked a bit of size on our forwards, and while the new guys generally add that size they also have quickness and skill.”
“Overall I’m really happy with what I’ve seen,” added the coach. “The biggest thing is the guys have jump and the some of the returning players are in their third year and return with a lot of confidence. Everyone is executing at a high level, which is impressive considering it’s so early.”
The Kings open exhibition play Friday and Saturday in Lethbridge against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
The Kings host the Augustana Vikings in exhibition play Sept. 17 at 6:45 p.m. in Penhold and meet the Bentley Generals at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Arena. They take on Innisfail Sept. 19 at the SAIT tournament.
The Kings open their regular season Sept. 25 in Penhold against the Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder.