The West Kootenay U15 Crusaders held their Zone evaluation camp Aug. 28-29 at the Trail Memorial Centre.
The Zone team plays in the BC Hockey U15 AA League against teams from the East Kootenay, Okanagan, North East and North Central.
About 40 players from around the West Kootenay skated in the camp, competing in a series of four scrimmages in an attempt to make this year’s team.
The Crusaders are led by coach Dallas Calvin, who coached the U18 team last season, but will be behind the bench of the U15 team this year.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Calvin. “I haven’t really seen that age group play in a number of years, so I didn’t have a lot of expectations. But there was a ton of talent out there, and lots of hard work.”
The Trail native says he will likely finalize the U15 lineup by the end of last week, as the Greater Trail Minor Hockey Association’s Rep tryout was held over the weekend.
The jump from U13 to U15 is a transition for first year players with body-checking permitted, and many players filling out – getting bigger, stronger, and more skilled.
Coaches say, “the older you get, the smaller the rinks get” and U15 players must enhance their spatial awareness and reaction time when it comes to puck possession and available passing options.
“The whole mindset is different for the younger kids,” said Calvin. “But the kids are really excited to be there and some are excited to start hitting. My (U18) team last year, a lot of guys were focused on making a junior team or go to college and play there once they graduate, so there’s definitely a shift from that.”
BC Hockey has not released a schedule but Calvin expects to have one soon, with 20-30 U15 Zone games, in addition to a handful of tournaments.
The 2019-20 season was the first year that the West Kootenay iced a Zone team, however, due to the pandemic the Crusaders were unable to play any games. The coach is more optimistic about the U15 team’s return to play this season.
“I think it’s going to be good, I’m hoping it’s going be good,” said Calvin. “You can tell that there’s a lot of excitement with the kids, even in our tryout I just held four intersquad games for the tryouts, and didn’t bother doing any practices. I figured they had enough of practicing last year, so it was time to get some games in.”
There is still some uncertainty around what the upcoming hockey season will look like, with a recent increase in COVID cases, but Calvin is confident there will be a season.
“Who knows what’s going to happen with COVID and what the rules are going to be and what we’re going to have to follow, but at least if we have some sort of normal year, I think it will be a success.”
Joining Calvin behind the bench will be former Beaver Valley Nitehawks teammate Jake Boyczuk. The pair played on the 2013-14 Nitehawks team that captured the Jr. B Western Canadian Keystone Cup Championship.