On-ice preparation for the 2019-20 Brooks Bandits will begin Aug. 19 when fall camp gets underway.
The defending Canadian Junior A hockey champions are expected to have 35-40 players in camp.
Included in the group are players who are committed because of their college.
“We’re set. We’re happy with what we have. We still have a couple of guys from last year we are looking to trade that need bigger roles and opportunities,” said head coach and general manager Ryan Papaioannou.
Papaioannou and assistant Scott Cunningham will have six or seven returning players including goaltenders Pierce Charleson and Tanner Marshall.
He said the team will not have a ton of 20-year-old players but will be fairly heavy with players aged 18 and 19.
For Papaioannou, the off-season was busy with travel related to recruiting and work in the office to get ready for the new season.
There are lots of things the coaches and scouts look for in a player..
Papiaoannou said it is just a matter of trying to create relationships with agents, schools and coaches around in Prep hockey and midget hockey.
He said there is no way to be able to see all these kids so most of the time it is names that come across his desk. Research follows to figure out which players you want to bring to Brooks for a visit and camp.
“To me it is just more about continuing to cast a wider net building a network and honestly letting the people do the work for you.”
Papaioannou believes the brand of the Bandits is pretty well known across North America compared to 10 years ago.
When the players do arrive, it will be a matter of judging who will be the best fit for the team.
“These players will not have a ton of junior experience to start the season but it is just one of those things that might take us some time. But we will be fine once we get going.”
He said there is a lot to do with the team starting from scratch.
“We all remember how last year went with the nice loss in Drumheller. We just had guys that needed to learn. They needed to learn about the league, about competitiveness and all kinds of things.”
While it is a matter of patience, you can only have so much of it. He said the coaching staff have to figure out which players want to fit in. If they don’t or they are not capable then the organization will have to make chances. But ideally, the players recruited are the guys that are here all year, he said.
It won’t be long until players in camp will be put to the test.
The Bandits will play their first exhibition game at home on Monday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. against the Okotoks Oilers. The teams will meet the following night in Okotoks.
Okotoks dominated the Bandits two seasons ago only to have Brooks return the favor last season. The Bandits finished 34 points ahead of the Oilers and had a record of 57-3.
Following the game in Okotoks on Aug. 27, the Bandits will head to Penticton for exhibition games against the Vees on Aug. 30-31. They will then carry on down the road for exhibition tilt against the Vernon Vipers on Sunday, Sept. 1.
The Bandits did a similar trip four years ago and two years ago the Vees came to Brooks for exhibition play. They will make a return trip to Brooks next fall.
“It is just nice to play some different teams in exhibition and then obviously if you are going to play different teams you might as well go out and find the best teams you can find. Obviously Penticton is pretty darn good in terms of an organization. It’s nice to link up with them whenever we can and play some meaningful games early in the year.”
Fans of the Bandits will get their first look at the team upon their return from B.C. on Wednesday, Sept. 4 against the Drumheller Dragons.
The final exhibition game will take place on Saturday, Sept. 7 when the Bandits travel to Okotoks.
The Bandits went 6-0 in exhibition play last season only to drop their first league game to the Dragons.
Brooks will open regular season play on the road on Friday, Sept. 13 against the Drumheller Dragons, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Papaioannou’s team will then travel to Camrose for a Sept. 14 game against the Kodiaks.
The team’s first home game and unveiling on the National Championship banner will take place on Friday, Sept. 20.
In all, the Bandits will play 28 home games with nine coming on Friday nights, 11 on Saturdays, five on Wednesdays and three holiday Monday games.
Holiday games include the traditional Thanksgiving Day game on Oct. 14 against the Lloydminster Bobcats, the Feb. 17 Family Day game against Camrose and a newly scheduled Remembrance Day game on Nov. 11 against Olds.
Of the five Wednesday games, one on Oct. 9 will be the team’s second annual School Day game. This contest against the Calgary Canucks will get underway at noon and will also serve for mental health education.
The other four Wednesday night games will utilize a new start time of 6:30 p.m. to make it even easier for families to come out to the mid-week games.
With the Calgary Mustangs taking a one year leave of absence, the league will operate with 15 teams this season. The number of league games has also been reduced from 60 to 58.
The format for the opening round of the 2020 Inter Pipeline AJHL playoffs has also been adjusted.
The top seven teams in the North qualify with the first place team receiving an opening round bye.
In the South Division, the top six teams qualify for post-season play with the first and second place teams receiving a bye.