Coming through the middle of August, it may not feel like hockey weather outside but it’s starting to feel like it around many rinks across the country. Lethbridge is no different. With the Enmax staff getting the boards and glass installed, the excitement over another WHL season closes in.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes had a busy offseason that included seeing Dylan Cozens selected by the Buffalo Sabers seventh overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Meanwhile, assistant coach Andrew Doty headed overseas with Hockey Canada at the U-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he served as the team’s video coach. The Hurricanes also selected 2000-born forward Oliver Okuliar with their only pick in the 2019 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. Okuliar has since signed his standard player agreement with the club.
This year’s Hurricanes team will look and feel much different than the last few seasons. Over the last three seasons, the team has gone “all-in” to win. After multiple trades and other moves, an older Hurricanes team that came up short last season in a seven-game series against the Calgary Hitmen will take on a new identity — an identity that will have to be found without many key players. Those players will not be back with the team for one reason or another.
2018-19 overagers Igor Merezhko, Jake Elmer, and Taylor Ross have graduated from the WHL. Under NHL contracts, forwards Nick Henry, Jordy Bellerive, and Jake Leschyshyn turned pro after last year’s playoff exit. 2000-born defenceman and Pittsburgh Penguins-signed prospect Calen Addison should return and will be leaned on heavily on the back end.
After being drafted, Cozens has also inked an NHL deal with the Sabers. His future in Lethbridge will depend on his training camp with the big club. The Yukon native could earn a nine-game look at the NHL level before being sent back if he doesn’t make the roster full time. Of course, a large factor in the immediate future for Cozens is the wrist injury he picked up at Sabers rookie development camp, which he is currently rehabbing.
So with all that turnover, it has opened the door for others to have a bigger role at the club. The Hall brothers (Adam and Justin) and Zach Stringer come to mind. For others, it’s a chance to make the team roster. Hurricanes training camp will be competitive with plenty of roster positions open, and with a younger group at the rink this season, the energy and excitement will be high.
General manager Pete Anholt used the offseason to make a few trades and sign a few players to their standard player agreements. Among those brought in include 1999-born and Lethbridge native D-Jay Jerome from the Victoria Royals, 2002-born d-man Tyson Phare from the Prince George Cougars, and Alex Thacker from the Swift Current Broncos. The most recent trade made came in another swap with the Royals. The Hurricanes used a position of depth and strength, sending defencemen Nolan Jones to the island for 19-year-old Dino Kambeitz and a 4th round pick.
Amongst those who signed are Dylan Ashe, an undrafted 2002-born defencemen and Logan McCutcheon, a 2004-born defender who was their third-round 2019 bantam pick.
Training camp in the windy city is scheduled for August 28-29 when rookies report, and the main camp is slated for August 30-September 1. Preseason kicks off shortly after for the Hurricanes with a home-and-home set versus the Red Deer Rebels on September 6th in Red Deer and 7th back in Lethbridge at the Enmax center.
Puck drops on the regular season on September 20th in Lethbridge, where the Hurricanes welcome the Medicine Hat Tigers for the traditional home-and-home that kicks of a new season.