Cam Robichaud, right, goes over some plays during the Nordiques training camp, at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
AUBURN — That L/A Nordiques start to training camp has been unusual for coach Cam Robichaud.
Not in a bad way, though.
In Tier III junior hockey, there’s usually a huge roster turnover, with kids moving onto college hockey or maybe to a different team or junior hockey league. For the Nordiques, though, 16 of 21 players on the training camp roster are returning from last year’s team that reached the NA3HL Coastal Division final and just missed the Fraser Cup tournament — the tournament between the league’s eight division winners.
“It’s been good with so many returners,” Robichaud said. “I think it’s the most returners I have had since coaching at the junior level. It makes things a little more easy, in the sense guys already have an idea what expect and what the team’s systems may be. You are still going to teach the systems as whole to everyone, but guys understand the systems because they used them last year.”
Robichaud said that having 75 percent of last year’s roster back means the returners can help teach the new players the systems the team uses in offensive, defensive and special teams situations.
A lot of players showed up before the Sept. 1 reporting date, and Robichaud was able to have a goalie session with all three goalies on the roster — Jason St. Pierre, Hunter Raye and Daniel Miller — three days before camp.
Robichaud said 14-16 skaters also returned to Lewiston before the calendar turned to September. And most of the team was in good shape, which was in shape was noticeable in the opening week of practices.
“A lot of guys worked over the summer, and you could see everybody’s legs were up to shape,” Nordiques defenseman and Lewiston native Cole Ouellette said. “But we had a pretty tough training camp, Cam put us through quite a bit that first day. We were all pretty beat, but we came together as a group.”
Falling just short last season has created a hunger for going farther in the playoffs.
“There’s always pressure being a top team in the league, but we will be taking it one game at a time,” forward Kyle Secor said.
When Robichaud constructed the team’s roster last season, he had the upcoming season in mind.
“We set the team up last year to have returners this year,” Robichaud said. “I wasn’t sure we would make it all the way or not. Obviously, we fell a little bit short. Now we have that group, with majority of them back. I think we can definitely make it all the way this year.”
Two of the five new players are Miller and Raye, the goalies. One of the selling points Robichaud used to sign them was the veteran defense that would be playing in front of them, including Ouellette, who was the NA3HL’s Defensive and Rookie of the Year.
“He did a great job letting me know how it would be here with a great group of guys,” Miller said. “I am looking forward to being here all season.”
Before the regular season starts on Sept. 14 against the New England Stars, who defeated the Nordiques in the Coastal Division final, the Nordiques head up to the St. Stephens, New Brunswick, on Saturday to take on the St. Stephens County Aces of the Maritime Hockey League in an exhibition game.
The MHL is one of the 10 leagues under the Canadian Junior “A” Hockey League umbrella, and is a feeder league not only to NCAA and Canadian colleges, but to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I expect it to be challenge for us in a highly physical game,” Robichaud said.”That league is pretty physical. That league is looking to move guys to major junior (like the QMJHL). You see guys go into college, but there’s a lot of skilled and young guys that are trying to get called up to major junior.”
Robichaud said it was the Aces that reached out to see if the Nordiques were interested in the exhibition contest. The teams had to go through USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, the governing bodies for hockey in the two countries, to get the green light to play the game.
Cam Robichaud, center, talks to his team during Nordiques training camp, at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
Cam Robichaud, second from left, Chris Pomerleau and Eric Michaud react to a drill during Nordiques training camp, at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn(Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)