The Spokane Chiefs took to the ice again Thursday, bursting with a preseason roster so long it had to be split among three squads.
Riley Woods is one of the veterans, and even for him it was still a lot to take in.
“It’s nice to see new faces,” said the 20-year-old forward. “You see the good potential we have from the younger guys, and it’s good to see all the guys again.”
Just about every face in the organization was on hand for the opening set of scrimmages at the Arena – coaches, scouts, and a whole lot of players and their families – all of them eager to get the hockey season started.
Second-year head coach Dan Lambert sat in the lower bowl of the Arena, a better place to take in all of it, he said.
“It is going to be nice to get back on the bench at one point, but this is necessary,” Lambert said. “You get a bit of a different view, and a different look, and you see so many new faces it’s easier to get to know the guys.”
There were 66 players in all, evenly distributed across three teams that will take turns scrimmaging each other. Each roster’s lines are tiered so that veterans, like Woods, skate against other veterans, like Kailer Yamamoto, who is participating in camp for the three days of scrimmages. After that, Yamamoto heads off to Virginia for NHL orientation and then, eventually, to Edmonton for the Oilers’ training camp.
Having all levels of the organization together at once is exciting for general manager Scott Carter.
“It’s an opportunity to have a look at guys,” Carter said, “to see how close our younger players, or guys who are close to making the team, look compared to our veteran players. … That’s what you’re watching for – to see the guys who have taken the next step.”
Aside from the 50 players on the Chiefs’ protected list, about 16 players accepted invitations from scouts and management to participate in camp. Scouts in particular were tightly focused on the action Thursday, eager to see how the players they recommended perform at camp.
“We watch games all year, and we keep guys on our radar, and if it’s someone who’s not drafted they are welcome to go to any team’s camp if they are invited,” said the team’s U.S. scout, George Ross. “So we put in a lot of legwork into selling our program and letting kids know why they should come to Spokane.”
Rarely does an invitee make the roster outright, but some might impress enough this week to earn a place on the protected list.
The scrimmages are opportunities for younger players to prove themselves as the roster gradually is whittled down to a number that will fit along one bench. It will be cut about in half early next week, after Sunday’s 1 p.m. Red-White game at the Arena.
From there, the team will play six preseason games and continue the cutdowns until the roster settles in for opening day, Sept. 22 at Tri-City.
But for now, everyone seemed to be enjoying the reality that hockey season is upon them. That made the full day of skating worth it for Woods.
“Being on the ice,” he said, “it’s a great thing.”