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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Can Grand Prairie make the jump?

Bantam AAAs offensively balanced, says coach

By TERRY FARRELL Herald-Tribune staff
The bad news for Glen Bauer is that he only has three returning players for his Golden Arrow Bantam AAA Storm team this season.

The good news is that he has another six who played AA last season.

So, in essence, he has half a team of veteran, or at least "upper-level" bantam players.

Forwards Ryan Bauer, Landon Vollman and Kolton Doram return for a second year as AAA players.

AA grads include defencemen Eric Marchesi, Brett Roberts and Calvin Saunders, as well as forwards RyanHartman, Ronan Van Buskirk and Austin Hrehoruk.

In fact, a loo k at his roster shows that Bauer has only kept three first-year bantams, making this, in one sense, a veteran team.

Not so fast, says the coach.

"I hate to use the word veteran because (the majority of them) have never played this level of hockey before," Bauer said. "The bantam AAA level is a huge, huge step, even from the bantam AA level. It's the best 14-year-olds in the province, realistically, at the end of the day. But I think we are dressing a more well- rounded squad than in the past."

The one area with a relative lack of elite experience is in net, where Tyler Boe and Brandon Wells will split the duties.

Boe played for the Grande Prairie bantam B Hawks last season, while Wells played Tier 1 in the All Peace League for Spirit River.

Bauer said they earned their spots on the team.

"They really did well in the tryouts," he said. "Tyler Boe let in one goal in 60 minutes of play against a pretty stellar Red Deer team and a pretty decent Canadian Athletic Club (Edmonton) team. And Brandon Wells let in two goals, dressing one night in the Red Deer game and dressing the other night without even having a warm-up because another boy was sick. So they both did what they had to do to make the hockey club."

They made immediate impressions by sharing a shutout in the game against Red Deer, a 3-0 Storm victory.

Bauer knows his goalies will be tested, particularly early in the season, as his teammates get to know each other. His three 1998 players are all defencemen and he has no returning D from last year, which will add to the pressure felt by the goalies.

He expects the Edmonton teams to have a bit of an edge for the first couple of months, as their rosters are filled with players who have been playing together for quite some time already.

With the bantam AAA Storm being the youngest level of the Grande Peace Athletic Club, and drawing players from not only Grande Prairie, but towns throughout the Peace, a lot of his players have never played together before.

"It takes three months to get them to gel, and understand that we are playing athletic conferences out of the city that have had their kids together... for three or four years already," said Bauer.

Although the heat will be on Boe and Wells a little bit for the first while, Bauer said the nice thing about this team is he has an offensive depth that GPAC bantam teams have lacked in recent years.

"Definitely our strength is in the fact that we have three even forward lines, all of which carry good size wingers – that's kind of where our consistency is," said Bauer. "In the past, usually they have had three or four or five forwards that have been their go-to guys. I think we have nine good guys up front that can really play the game and another three that really complement that with their size and their physical presence. So I think we are as solid on the front end as this team has ever been."

The bantam AAA Storm are coming off a season which, like most GPAC squads, was forgettable, inasmuch as wins were concerned. The Storm finished with a 3-30-0 record, last place in the 22-team league by a considerable margin.

While wins and losses take a back seat to player development, the longer a team plays, the more development a player gets and the best way to keep playing is by making the playoffs. Bauer said that that focus is a mainstay.

"Our goal is always to make the playoffs and that's where we set the bar for the kids – we wouldn't set it any lower than that," he said. "The expectation is for the kids to put their skates on, go to work and work hard to get a win. Sometimes that works in our favour, sometimes it doesn't.

"As for our association's goals, our goal is to produce and develop hockey players so that when they get to the midget AAA level they contribute to the club and (should they) aspire to go on and have a career, whether that be in school, or junior or even professional for that matter, that they get the tools to compete."

It all starts for Bauer and his boys this weekend, as they host the Edmonton K of C Squires in a pair of games Saturday (6:15 p.m.) and Sunday (10 a.m.) at the Coca-Cola Centre. It's the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League season-opening series for both teams.

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