By Greg Harder, Leader-Post August 21, 2009 8:01 PM
LUMSDEN — Training camp is just underway, but the Regina Pats have already scored a victory — over some of their worst critics.
Coming off a disastrous 2008-09 campaign, a cynical faction of the fanbase told anyone who’d listen that Regina would be playing catchup before the season even started. The theory was that no one would want play for the Pats and they could face significant defections heading into camp.
Wrong on both accounts.
The Pats’ training camp roster comprises 90 players, marking one of the best turnouts in several years. It’s also the first time in at least 15 seasons — when the Parker family took over — that the team didn’t have a single no-show for camp.
“We’ve had a lot of good athletes and good young men who’ve come through our program over the years,” offered GM Brent Parker. “I know we can stand up and hold our own against anybody in terms of the program we run. I don’t think we’ve ever been in a better position in terms of kids wanting to be part of our program. People like to kick you when you’re down. We understand that. Our job is to go out, play hard every night and be in a position where we don’t give people an opportunity to say things like that anymore.”
As for the overwhelming turnout for camp, Parker said the team didn’t send out any more invitations than the past.
“It’s just the way it worked out,” he said. “We had a good response.”
The only fish that got away came early in the summer when Regina product Drew George, an undrafted list pickup who was the leading scorer for the Telus Cup-champion Notre Dame Hounds, spurned the WHL club in favour of the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. He went the junior A route in order to pursue an NCAA scholarship.
“I was disappointed . . . but we’re not going to beg anybody to play here either,” said Parker. “We laid out our best-case scenario for him and the opportunity that existed for him. We hoped he would come in but he has chosen that route and that’s fine. I respect his decision. I don’t believe it was the right one but I respect his decision.”
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The Pats are rounding out their coaching staff with two familiar faces.
Part-time assistant Todd Strueby and goalie consultant Ryan Cyr are back in the fold, making them the lone holdovers from last year’s staff (head coach Dale Derkatch and assistant Terry Perkins were let go). Strueby joined the Pats in 2006-07 — one year before Cyr — during Curtis Hunt’s first stint as Regina’s head coach.
There are still some logistics to iron out for Strueby, who recently started a new job, but Hunt has made it clear he wants to find a way to make it work.
“I’ve talked to Todd Strueby and would like to keep him on board,” said Hunt. “He has an incredible presence in our room and familiarity (with the team).”
EXTRAS: The Pats are close to securing commitments from their top two picks in this year’s bantam draft: C Chandler Stephenson (fifth overall) and F Taylor Balog (28th). “They have contracts in hand,” said Parker. “I would anticipate we’ll get everything done in fairly short order. We certainly don’t foresee any issues.” . . . The Pats are expected to unveil newly designed jerseys on Sept. 9 during their pre-season home-opener against the Brandon Wheat Kings . . . The Pats have added LW Colton Graf, a 19-year-old native of Watson who spent parts of two seasons with the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins. In 2008-09, the 6-foot-0, 200-pounder had 12 goals and 33 points (second on the team) in 55 games with the SJHL’s Battlefords North Stars.
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