Locals tapped for Wolf Pack hockey camp

Local aspiring junior hockey players surprised the head coach and general manager of the Squamish Wolf Pack team last week with their keenness. Matt Samson, in fact, said he thought only about 30 or 35 players would skate at the new Pacific International Junior Hockey League (PIJHL) team's first evaluation camp.

Instead, between 45 and 50 players turned up for the three-day camp at Meadow Park, where the Wolf Pack snuck in some time before the arena shut down for its maintenance period.

What's more, Samson said three players from the Whistler Minor Hockey Association -- forward Jesse Clemiss and defencemen Eric Smith and Brandon Coombs - will be invited back for the Wolf Pack's August evaluation camp in Squamish.

Samson said he was happy with the action at the camp, and with the opportunity to give local players a taste of this level of hockey.

"That was the idea," he said, adding that the players said the camp "was a really good experience for them."

The final selection camp will come after a busy stretch for Samson and the Wolf Pack leadership. They'll be scouting for players at other camps, including one in Denver in July, as well as dropping into tryouts for the Pack's Junior A affiliate team, the Burnaby Express of the B.C. Hockey League. Samson said he'll also check out other events in Whistler.

"Should be a busy summer," Samson said. But that's what has to be done to achieve his stated goal of making the PIJHL playoffs in the team's first year.

"It's not a lofty goal," Samson admitted, since all PIJHL teams except two will make it into the postseason under the league's new format.

With the addition of the Wolf Pack and the Aldergrove Kodiaks in the 2008-'09 season, the league is jumping to 10 teams and returning to a two-conference format, where the bottom team in each conference won't make it out of the regular season.

But Samson said making the playoffs is just his initial goal for the team, with his eyes on the future and building a quality franchise that will last.

The former head coach of the now-defunct Squamish Cougars of the World Hockey Association, Samson said he's looking forward coaching a team in the PIJHL and leaving behind the occasionally frustrating WHA.

"Overall (the PIJHL) is a faster league, a higher-calibre league," he said.

He said he's also glad to be keeping a team in the corridor, since Squamish and Whistler have been extremely supportive.

The Wolf Pack's main camp in August will run out of Squamish's Brennan Park Arena, leading into exhibition games in late August and September and final team selection prior to the early-September season start.

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