Wearing a huge grin and admittedly harbouring some anxiety, Red Deer Rebels defenceman Aaron Borejko registered for training camp Saturday at the Centrium.
“I’m excited. I’m really looking forward to this season,” said the veteran as he headed across the parking lot.
Inside, he was joined by a long list of returning players and a throng of newcomers — 71 players in all. The rookies were wide-eyed, the veterans relaxed and robust as they waiting for the fitness testing.
Rebels director of scouting/player development Randy Peterson was impressed with the level of physical conditioning shown by the returnees.
“The kids have taken another step in terms of their conditioning, plus some of the guys have grown,” said Peterson.
“It’s kind of interesting that our younger guys can rub shoulders with the veterans and see what it takes to play in our league as far as conditioning and the commitment level that it takes. Not that last year was a problem in that regard, but you can see that these veterans are that much stronger and that’s going to help us take that next step as a team. We made some strides last season and now we want to keep moving forward, and it looks like our returning guys are prepared to do that.”
Barring injuries, very few jobs will be up for grabs this fall, therefore the club issued invitations to just a handful of main-camp outsiders.
“We have so many returning players this year and young prospects we’re pretty high on, so we didn’t send out too many invitations,” said Peterson.
Still, there are at least two main-camp invitees with junior A experience — defenceman Justin Slobozian and forward Neil Landry, both 18.
Slobozian was a third-round bantam draft pick of the Regina Pats in 2007 and has suited up with the WHL club, although he played with the OCN Blizzard of the MJHL last season, scoring once and adding four assists and 22 minutes in penalties in 24 games.
“He has some ability and has also played in our league,” said Peterson. “He’s here to earn a spot and we’ll give him a good look.”
Landry was picked by the Kamloops Blazers in the fifth round of the 2007 bantam draft and has attended three WHL camps with the club.
He spent last season with the Humboldt Broncos of the SJHL, scoring four goals and collecting eight points and 32 minutes in penalties in 45 contests.
“He’s a kid who’s always had a pretty good skill level and we like the way he thinks the game,” said Peterson. “He’ll be given an opportunity here.”
Forwards Jamie Johnson of Edmonton and Clint Pirio of Radville, Sask., are 18-year-old main-camp invitees who just graduated from the midget AAA ranks. Johnson had seven goals and 23 points in 34 games with the Edmonton Knights of Columbus and Pirio sniped 21 goals in 40 games with the Notre Dame Argos.
“Johnson had a good season and Pirio is a big kid who plays the game pretty well,” said Peterson. “He’s six-foot-two and he can skate. He’ll be given an opportunity, that’s for sure.”
Steve Oursov is also back in camp after suffering a serious concussion during the 2008-09 WHL season, an injury that kept him out of action until the second half of the 2009-10 campaign when he joined the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL and scored five goals and contributed four assists in 20 games.
“Steve is very determined. He’s worked hard during the off-season and he’s here to get his job back,” said Peterson.
• Camp opened this morning with an 8:30 a.m. rookie session. The main-camp players are on the ice from 10:30 am. to 12:45 p.m. and again from 4:45-6:15 p.m. for a scrimmage.
The rookies return for a 90-minute session at 2:45 p.m. and a goalie session is scheduled for 1-2:30 p.m.
Training camp concludes with the McDonald’s Black and White intrasquad game at 7 p.m. Wednesday.