IceDogs raring to open camp
It’s full steam ahead for Niagara IceDogs’ training camp.
The IceDogs are scheduled to hit the ice at Meridian Centre Monday, Aug. 30 for a one-day rookie camp followed by the remainder of the roster the following morning.
“We’re full force and basically 100 per cent back to normal,” IceDogs general manager Joey Burke said. “We’ve had the invites out for basically a month now. We’re just confirming the last couple of responses in terms of attendance.
“We’ve got everything ready to go. The rink is booked, the ice is going in, the guys are coming to town and the billets are ready.”
Burke said the American players have their visas and the imports have their flights booked as well.
“This is not like the past 16 months where we’ve been trying to get it on track and working towards it. This is a concrete as you can get.”
Burke confirmed the IceDogs plan to have between 55-65 players in camp and that some informal skates are also in the works.
“The guys are ready to go and some of them are starting to trickle back into town already,” he said. “It’s an exciting group and we’re excited to see them out there.”
After a week of camp, the IceDogs plan to scale things back to a regular training camp with a more manageable number of players.
“It will be very nice to have a bit of a break and some down time after the intensity of camp,” he said. “We will able to get into a regular practice routine and then into the exhibition games around the time the regular season would traditionally start. There is a little bit of leeway heading into our season open. It gives everybody that extra bit of time.”
The IceDogs play six exhibition games — Friday, Sept. 17 at Oshawa, Saturday, Sept. 18 at home versus Oshawa, Friday, Sept. 24 at Guelph, Saturday, Sept. 25 at home versus Guelph, Friday, Oct. 1 at Kitchener and Saturday, Oct. 2 at home versus Kitchener.
Niagara open the 2021/22 Ontario Hockey League season Thursday, Oct. 7 in Barrie and host Oshawa Saturday, Oct. 9 in their home opener.
Burke said every precaution will be take to ensure a safe environment.
“In terms of in-house, all players, all staff and all billets are required to be double vaxxed,” he said. “We’re going to make sure we have all the PPE (personal protection equipment) and sanitation and everything ready for these guys. Every single member of the IceDogs community is going to be fully vaccinated so there will be no issues that way.”
Burke said the club is still waiting for official word on how many fans will be permitted to attend.
“We’re still working toward that a little bit unfortunately but the narrative and directive we’ve received from basically every level is to anticipate 100 per cent capacity Oct. 7. It’s very, very exciting that way,” he said. “Anything we need to do we’re certainly prepared to do to welcome the great fans back and get these guys back on the ice.”
Burke is beginning to feel the excitement build after losing all of last season to the pandemic.
“It’s unbelievable for me. It’s finally, slowly starting to get back to normalcy. While I’ve been busy on and off throughout the stretch, there’s never been that actual concrete date to work towards.
“It’s outstanding to be able to see these guys again and be able to get that feeling of normalcy.”
Burke is especially looking forward to opening night.
“Come that first game at the Meridian Centre when it’s rocking, it’s going to be a heck of an experience and something we’re all been waiting far too long for,” he said. “I honestly believe the fans are going to blow the roof off the building and it’s going to be an atmosphere like we’ve never seen.”
Ice chips: The IceDogs have hired Trevor Castonguay as equipment manager. Castonguay, who spent the last six seasons with Owen Sound, replaces Nick Hornby who was with the organization for five seasons.
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