With one loud whoop when his skate blades touched the ice, Billy Jenkins summed up the spirit with which the Kingston Frontenacs went through an on-ice workout Thursday.
In what was an unofficial pre-training camp skate and with no coaches allowed either on the ice or bench, the Gold and Black teams played a pond hockey-style session.
The players displayed a genuine joy to be back to an Ontario Hockey League training camp setting at the K-Rock Centre.
“It’s exciting for everyone. The off-season gets too long,” said returning captain Cody Alcock.
“We have an almost entirely different team team this year. We made a lot of changes and I think it’s for the better. A lot of our players are excited for this up and coming season.”
General manager Doug Gilmour was an observer to the on-ice play. Besides veterans and the two new import Finnish players in Mikko Vainonen and Henri Ikonen, the team’s two first-round drafts, Roland McKeown and Sam Bennett, were on the ice.
Gilmour said it was quite a difference Thursday from the same time last year.
“The talent level is so much higher. That’s the really exciting part,” Gilmour said.
“We are young, but we are not young. Look at Mikko, for example. When you see him out here, he is almost a pro,” said Gilmour in reference to the six-foot-three, 225-pound physical presence of the 18-year-old Vainonen, who was the captain of Finland’s national junior team last spring.
“We’ve got some guys that are young but old. That is what junior is all about. It’s going to be exciting,” Gilmour said.
Alcock said it was exciting to see how much everybody has changed over the last five months. The change in second-year Frontenacs like Ryan Kujawinski, Billy Jenkins, Jean Dupuy and Jacob Smith was quite noticeable.
“It is crazy what one year does to you,” Alcock said.
“Kuja is bigger. He was already big as it was and now he is bigger and faster. Jenks is bigger and faster. Darcy (Greenaway) and (Michael) Moffatt. I could keep going.”
A year ago, it was Alcock and Wilton’s Darcy Greenaway who were just trying to make the team. Now the two are back, in all likelihood destined to play together and be two of the key players.
“I know (Greenaway) has being going hard in the off-season and so have I,” Alcock said.
“Hopefully we can have an even better season than last year.”
Alcock expects a very competitive camp as players seek to impress upon coach Todd Gill that they are ready and deserving for more playing minutes.
“We have a lot of good guys out here,” Alcock said. “It is going to be a competitive camp. Everybody is going to be going so it is going to be a tough decision for the coaches for sure.”
Alcock never tires with the atmosphere around training camp or the work the players need to do.
“You get the feel for the pace. It is a big jump for those young guys,” Alcock said.
“Even for returning guys like myself. In the off-season, you have been skating and working out, but you haven’t played a game in awhile,” he said.
“So it takes a couple of games to get back into the feel of things. That’s what exhibition games are meant for and we’ve got three of those. And the camp coming up (Saturday and Sunday scrimmages) should be good too.”
Notebook — Mike Morrison was the only regular camp goaltender on the ice Thursday. Zack Springer, a goaltender with the Greater Kingston junior Frontenacs and the son of team owner Doug Springer, filled in as a practice goaltender ... Playing defence for the Black team was GM Gilmour’s son-in-law, Evan McGrath, the former star forward with the Kitchener Rangers who is now playing pro hockey in Sweden. McGrath, when he was on the bench, was a sounding board for Finn Mikko Vainonen ... Gilmour’s oldest son Jake, a six-foot-three prospect, was also on the ice Thursday. He is in the Black lineup