The Cold Lake Wings’ first season is fast approaching.
Head coach for the Cold Lake Wings Johnathan Aitken sees the team’s first season as an exciting opportunity, and is looking forward to what it holds.
“There’s an uncertainty from starting from scratch to establish ourselves as a competitive team,” he explained. “We’ve got to find an identity, and find a good group of kids that will compete every day. That have the Jr. A mentality to always get better, and moving them on to the next level.”
The former Boston Bruin and Chicago Blackhawk wanted to establish the Wings from the ground up, a task he has never tackled before.
“It came out of the blue, and things happened for a reason… It’s a new experience, and something you can put your name on. You can start from scratch, and put your blood, sweat and tears into,” he explained.
Director of the international expansion for the northern division, Derek Prue, said starting a team in Cold Lake has been a great experience so far.
“There’s been a great amount of uptake, obviously it’s a great community and great size for Jr. A hockey. The facility is probably one of the best tier-three in the province for that level of hockey,” he explained.
Establishing the team as part of the community is important for the Wings.
Aitken said, “At the end of the day, we’re just trying to develop the kids and to make them better people. To integrate them into the community, and to be role models for the young families in the Lakeland region to give them a Jr. A experience.”
The team has already planned some community involvement. They’re hoping to host reading clinics at local schools, put on autograph appearances, and attend minor hockey practices to help out some of the volunteer coaches.
“We just want the best for the community and (what’s) best for the kids,” Aitken expressed.
He added, the Cold Lake Wings will bring high-calibre hockey to the city.
Coaches and team staff have spent their pre-season working the phones in search of potential players, which takes time for a team just starting out.
“It’s the uncertainty of parents wanting to put their sons into a new team that, while under an existing league, it’s a new division. Wanting to make sure it’s worth their while, and investment in the game, and continuing their education if they’re still in school,” Aitken said
Aitken has been looking for good, quality players who want to work hard to fill the roster.
He said, “Ultimately, it’s going to be a full-time job. We have two-hour practices daily.”
Ensuring their players want to learn and build off of their already acquired skills was crucial when building their lineup.
“It’s good young kids who just want to go out there and play the game for the love of it, and to make themselves better,” he said, noting some players may catch the eye of recruiters from Canadian or American universities.
The Cold Lake Jr. A team is part of the Western Provinces Hockey Association (WPHA), a Canadian expansion of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL).
This year, the Wings will be facing off against teams such as the Edson Aeros, Hinton Bobcats, Meadow Lake Mustangs, and South Oregon Spartans.
The first puck drop for the Wings is on Sept. 28 during an exhibition game against Edson Aeros. This will be the home-opener for the Cold Lake team at the Imperial Oil Place arena.
Their first regular season home game will be against the Meadow Lake Mustangs on Oct. 19.