The U15 AA West Central Wheat Kings are one of many teams ready to hit the West Central Events Centre ice at the start of September for training camp.
The Wheat Kings saw 13 players graduate from the program last year. That means there is plenty of opportunity to step up this season for any young players looking to make the jump to AA.
They named Eatonia's Zane Hayes head coach back in June. He credited Larry Wintoneak with another strong run as coach of the team, but with that spot left empty again this year, Hayes talked about the things he would like to implement for the Wheat Kings moving forward.
"I want to come in and lend some stability for a few years." said the eager bench boss, "Try to have the stability there where you can build a program over a few years, instead of one-offs every year."
Hayes is the father of Eatonia native and former WHL veteran Cade Hayes. There is no prior experience in his back pocket coaching this level of hockey, but as a parent who has been there before Hayes is looking forward to the challenge.
"It's a very important year in these kids lives. Especially the second years, going into their WHL and SJHL drafts." said Hayes. "I think, going through stuff like I did with (Cade), I've developed a pretty decent network at (each level) and I think I can offer a lot of stuff on the ice as well as off the ice."
Hayes is happy to be in a role where he can help point young players in the right direction.
Typically a coach at this level has spent their life in hockey. Hayes had the chance to play AAA hockey in the 80's in Swift Current, but chose to hang his hat in another sport.
"I actually chose the rodeo route. Couldn't really do both, wasn't enough time to commit to both, and I ended up going into rodeo as a young fellow, which is still athletics."
Perhaps the tough attitude of a rodeo athlete made it into Hayes' coaching style. He was 16 years old the first time he ever went behind the bench and has gained plenty of experience even outside of coaching his sons over the years.
As a parent, and observer of the game at large, Hayes knows the game has changed over the years. The mentality he wants for his team can be described in just a couple sentences.
"I want my team to stick up for their teammates if they have to, but I don't want to be playing shorthanded all the time either. Tough, but disciplined is I guess my motto on that."
With camp getting closer by the day, Hayes and the rest of the Wheat Kings team have an itinerary set for the hopeful players in attendance.
"We're taking registrations up to September 1st," began Hayes who also shared it's a soft deadline for late registrations, "If one or two come in after that, we'll probably accept them.
"The camp itself is September 8-9-10 weekend. Each kid will have one ice-time Friday night. Saturday morning we start with fitness testing, and then there will be a game Saturday afternoon, and a small practice Sunday morning, before another game Sunday afternoon."
All of the off-ice preparations have Hayes more than excited to finally lace up the skates in a few weeks time. Outgoing U15 coach Larry Wintoneak has been working with kids on the ice prior to his move from town, and Hayes has been a common spectator in the crowd.
"I've been out watching kids at the rink during Larry's skates until he leaves. My youngest is in one of them, so I have been going to watch some of the kids that will be trying out for this team that I don't maybe know as well as some others."
The second weekend of September can't come fast enough.
"Pretty excited about the group of kids we are going to get together. No matter who it is. Just generally overall excited for the year and to get started."