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Training camp an opportunity to build for Greyhounds

Tuesday marks the official beginning of the Ontario Hockey League season for the Soo Greyhounds as training camp opens

A fresh sheet of ice and some new glass has the Essar Centre is ready to go.

The Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds are one day closer to putting the arena to use.

On Tuesday afternoon over 50 players will take to the ice as the team opens training camp ahead of the 2016-17 OHL season.

For Greyhounds General Manager Kyle Raftis, training camp is a time to continue what the team looked to build last season.

“You try to set a framework or what you want to see from them over the summer and getting them here (this week) you get a baseline of where they’re at,” Raftis said. “We started that last season and it really paid dividends. You really saw the growth in a lot of our players at the end of the year.”

A strong finish to the regular season and a longer playoff run that many expected is something that the team wants to continue this season from a development standpoint.

“We didn’t want to be a team that assumed everyone would get better just because they’re a year older,” Raftis said. “That was a great feather in a lot of guys caps with how we finished off (last season). We’re hoping that a lot of players want to continue on that curve and want bigger opportunities and push each other in training camp to get to that spot. You don’t want guys coming in and just being satisfied. You want to hit the ground running.”

Greyhounds captain Blake Speers called the playoff run, in which the team upset the second-seeded Sarnia Sting in round one before losing in round two in five games to the Erie Otters, “huge.”

“It was huge for our young guys to see that they could step up in the league and they played pretty well,” Speers added. “That experience is going to be huge when we get to playoff time this year. Our confidence level and our ability when we’re down is through the roof. That’s really exciting. Nobody gets down on each other and we just keep pushing forward.”

With centre Gabe Guertler and defenceman Tyler Hore as the lone overage players on last years roster, the team enters training camp with two potential overagers in forward Bobby MacIntyre and defenceman Medric Mercier, both of whom will be reporting to camp.

Raftis said that both MacIntyre and Mercier will be in camp and he doesn’t expect goaltender Brandon Halverson, who is signed by the New York Rangers, to be back as an overager.

“We’re going to have to monitor that,” Raftis said of the overage situation. “Obviously we have some flexibility with a spot open. We’re not counting on Brandon being back. Sometimes with goalies, you have to keep your ear to the ground but at the same time we have to prepare like he’s not going to be here.”

“There’s always a lot of overagers on a lot of teams at this time of year so it gives us a lot of flexibility,” Raftis added. “We have a lot of guys returning so it’s not necessarily going to be a desperation move that we bring in a 20-year-old. I’m cautious with 20-year-olds. They have to be the right personality to bring into the dressing room.”

One veteran who won’t be in training camp is defenceman Gustav Bouramman. A two-year veteran, Bouramman’s status coming into the season is still somewhat up in the air as, despite signing an entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild, he has an offer on the table from Lulea of the Swedish league.

Raftis said that Bouramman will head straight to Minnesota’s camp and that the Wild would like to see him play in North American this season.

“They would like to see him in North America,” Raftis said. “They like the way his development is going.

“I think they would rather see him (in North America) but at the same time they have to see how everything plays out.”

With Bouramman’s status not confirmed, the team stands to enter camp with six defencemen with OHL experience in Mercier, third-year veteran Colton White and sophomore blueliners Anthony DeMeo, Conor Timmins, Theo Calvas and Mac Hollowell.

“It’s a good opportunity for guys that got a little taste of it last year,” Raftis said. “It’s a good opportunity for them right out of the gate to step in and take some of those key minutes and run with it. It would really benefit our team as a whole if that would happen.”

A trio of prospects will not be in camp for the Greyhounds when it opens as defencemen Corson Green and Jacob Semik as well as goaltender Drew DeRidder will not be in attendance.

Green, a fifth round draft pick by the Greyhounds in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, attended the Greyhounds development camp last fall before returning home following the two-day event. Green is committed to play NCAA hockey at the University of New Hampshire beginning in the fall of 2018.

Semik, an 11th round pick in April, has committed to the University of Michigan (2018) while DeRidder, a sixth round pick in April, recently committed to Michigan State University for the 2018-19 season.

Raftis said the lines of communication with Semik and DeRidder have been open through the summer since the draft.

The on-ice portion of the Greyhounds training camp begins on Tuesday afternoon as practices begin. Scrimmages begin on Wednesday morning.