Brandon Cox’s first training camp as a junior B hockey head coach will make the rest of them seem easy.
Cox, who purchased the Kerry Park Islanders in July, presided over his first camp last week. In some ways, it was business as usual, but as with seemingly everything else these days, COVID-19 precautions loomed over the sessions.
“It was all making sure the protocols were followed and cleaning in between each group,” Cox commented.
The Isles hosted 60 players in camp, split up into groups of 20, and there were no issues with regard to the protocols, Cox said. For the most part, players were just excited to be skating again.
“I think they’re happy to be back on the ice,” Cox said. “It wasn’t a typical camp, but they enjoyed getting out there and skating.”
The coaching staff was pleased with the turnout as well.
“We’re happy,” Cox commented. “There were definitely some surprises. The veterans showed up in good shape ready to work hard.”
Some of those veterans were handed official leadership roles during camp. Defenceman Matt Baird was named team captain, and forwards Reid Fitzpatrick, Tyler Magnuson and Kirk Whittaker were named alternates. Cox got to know them before camp when they travelled to Abbotsford to skate with him, and he has been constantly impressed with how they have carried themselves.
“They’re obviously dedicated to putting in the work for this year,” the coach said.
The Isles also announced the signing of their second goaltender for the upcoming season, with Kamloops product Bailey Monteith signing on Monday. Monteith had 15 wins, three losses, one tie and one overtime loss and a 1.95 goals-against average with the major midget Okanagan Rockets in 2019-20, and played the previous season with the junior B Osoyoos Coyotes as a 16-year-old.
The pool of players is now down to 28, leaving Cox with some really difficult choices, especially when he doesn’t want to interfere with younger players’ chances of trying out for midget teams. Under normal circumstances, he would be able to give players a chance to prove themselves in exhibition games, but if he does that and then decides to cut them, they will have to isolate from hockey for two weeks before going to other teams, possibly putting their spots elsewhere in jeopardy.
“You can only bring so many kids into exhibition, so that will be tough,” Cox acknowledged. “You want to be fair to the kids who are going to midget tryouts.
“As a first-year GM and coach, it’s definitely a difficult decision to make, but you want to do what’s best for everybody.”
Because of restrictions on affiliate players, Cox expects Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League rosters to be bigger than usual this year.
It was revealed this past Sunday that VIJHL teams will be able to play in four-team “cohorts” for a period of time, and it looks now like they will play in one cohort until Christmas, when they can change to another with a two-week window in between. Cox believes exhibition play will begin in mid-September,with the regular season starting in the third week of September.