RDC Kings hockey hit the ground running with training camp

There won’t be much need for getting up to speed for the RDC Kings hockey team this year.

The team has 19 returning players and with training camp starting Monday, it will be more practice than finding out who might make the group in 2019-20.

Kings head coach Trevor Keeper said it is the most experienced group he’s had in the last six years and is looking forward to seeing how those Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference veterans lead the way this season.

“We’re not even treating it as we need to do skill drills or scrimmage and evaluate talent. Our team is here and it’s set. We’re going to use these four days to practice right from the start,” Keeper said.

Last year, the Kings finished third in the ACAC with a 19-7-1-1 record and scored 132 goals for the second-best mark in the regular season. In the playoffs, they lost in a heartbreaking second round against the Grant MacEwan University Griffins.

The Griffins finished off the Kings in triple overtime to win the series and they went on to win the league title.

Dylan Thudium had been a major contributor since coming to RDC five years ago and will be one of those veterans who have high expectations after the way things ended last year.

“This my last year, so for me personally I’m just really excited to really put it all out there. We have 19 returning guys, we already have a lot of chemistry and a great group of guys. It’ll be nice to get off to a hot start right away,” said the fifth-year forward.

In 26 games, Thudium had 13 goals and 18 assists 2018-19, while his brother Chase led the ACAC in goals with 18. With most of the forward group back this year, Keeper expects similar production all around.

“All of our forwards are skilled players. Now they’re a year older… we had a lot of rookies last year and they did very well as first years, but it’s a big step,” he said.

One difference for the Kings in 2019-20 will be on the blueline. Captain Tanner Butler, who led the league in defenceman points with 30 in 26 games and was also ACAC Player of the Year, finished out his college career last year. Dylan Baer and Mike Statchuk have also departed.

The void left by Butler is a major one and something Thudium understands they’ll have to solve as a collective.

“You can’t replace a guy like that. I’ve played with him my whole career here and it was really an honour. He was such a good leader, led by example,” Thudium said.

“It’s going to be tough not having him, but we have a lot of character guys, so we’ll be able to fill that void.”

One player brought with the hope of shoring up the blueline is Carter Wolski. The Sexsmith native had a successful junior career with the Brooks Bandits, including winning the RBC Cup on home ice earlier this year. The young blueliner said that experience will hopefully help him get ready for the rigours of the ACAC.

“It was a pretty cool experience. Pretty lucky to do that. I guess there’s just that confidence and that sense of knowing how to win. I think that’s something that can translate into this year,” said the veteran of 176 Alberta Junior Hockey League games.

The 21-year-old added that as an offensive defenceman, he hopes to be able to pick up some of the slack left by the Butler and others.

“I’m definitely more of an offensive guy. My skating is probably my best asset. Just a guy who can move the puck to the forward and join the rush,” said Wolski, who put up 85 points.

The Kings will hit the ice four times this week, before an intrasquad game, Friday. Their first game action comes Sept. 6 on the road against the Calgary Dinos of the U Sports Canada West. RDC will host the Dinos on Sept. 7 at 2:15 at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre.

They will continue their preseason schedule with a pair of home games against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns on Sept. 14 and 15. Puck drop is 7 p.m. on Sept. 14 and 2 p.m. Sept. 15.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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