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Fitness testing signals the start of first Spokane Chiefs training camp for new coach Manny Viveiros

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 21, 2019, 7:01 p.m.

Spokane Chiefs forwards start their timed 1.5 miles around the North Central High School track on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Rookie registration and fitness testing begins for the Chiefs as they get ready to open camp this week. As part of the testing, new players raced around the NC track. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Chiefs forwards start their timed 1.5 miles around the North Central High School track on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Rookie registration and fitness testing begins for the Chiefs as they get ready to open camp this week. As part of the testing, new players raced around the NC track. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Following an afternoon of pushups, pull-ups, squats and jumps, nearly four dozen Spokane Chiefs hockey prospects capped the first day of training camp by running circles around the North Central football team.

For the third year in a row, 17-year-old forward Alex Von Sprecken finished first in the 1.5-mile run, six laps around the NC track where the school’s football team was practicing Wednesday afternoon. This year he did so in 8 minutes, 31 seconds.

“He’s unbelievable,” fellow prospect Owen MacNeil said. “I’ve never seen a guy who can keep a pace like that.”

The run, as well as the rest of the fitness testing, is an annual rite of passage and a way for the team’s prospects to prove that they took the advice they were given during last year’s camp. They will spend the rest of the week trying to earn a spot on the Chiefs’ 2019-20 roster – or short of that, at least show coaches, scouts and the rest of the staff that they could contribute down the road.

“Playing a couple games, the speed was pretty intense, and tough to keep up … so that’s what I focused on over the summer,” said MacNeil, who played in two Chiefs games last season. “I was in the gym five, six days a week. I feel like now I can play at this level and compete with everybody and be at the same speed.”

The coaches who offered him that advice are almost all gone now. Former head coach Dan Lambert left to become an assistant with the NHL’s Nashville Predators.

Instead, new coach Manny Viveiros is presiding over this year’s camp, where 65 of the Chiefs’ current players and prospects are trying to show the new staff what they can do on the ice.

“The biggest thing is to get out on the ice with these kids and see what they can do,” Viveiros said. “We’re hoping we can find some younger guys to step up this year and possibly make the hockey team.”

This week marks one of the only times that the entire organization – scouts and coaches, prospects and players – is together. New assistant general manager Jim Hammett said he was impressed with how well-conditioned players are compared to even a decade ago.

“The game’s changed so much that all these guys at this young age have trainer guiding them every day,” said Hammett, who spent the last 20 years as an NHL hockey scout in a handful of organizations. “The amount of knowledge that these kids have in the offseason, and the condition they come in at this young of age, is incredible.”

Their week is just beginning, though. Thursday marks the first day that current players and prospects will be together, split across three teams of about 21 each. Each team is named after a former Chiefs player in the NHL: Team (Kailer) Yamamoto, Team (Derek) Ryan, and Team (Tyler) Johnson.

The camp culminates in the annual Red-White game at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Arena. After that, the team will keep about 30 players as it moves into the preseason schedule.

For Ben Thornton, the Chiefs’ first-round pick earlier this year in the Western Hockey League’s bantam draft, this week isn’t about making the team, as he’s not eligible to be on the roster full time until next season. But he is still eager to make a good impression.

“I’m really excited to get things going,” Thornton said. “It’s a great experience. Just trying to take it all in and have a great time.”

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