LEWISTON — Nicholas Champion isn’t quite ready to get things rolling yet. The Lewiston Maineiacs’ newly-acquired 20-year-old goaltender paid a quick visit to the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Wednesday, there just long enough to unload his goalie gear and get a quick tour of the building.

Then, it was back to camp at Sebago Lake, back to enjoy a few more days off before the real work begins.

Champion, along with about 40 other junior hockey players, will return to the Colisee over the next several days. All of them are due in by Tuesday, the first official day of the Maineiacs’ eighth preseason training camp.

“The staff, we have our version of training camp on Monday,” GM Roger Shannon said. “Tuesday, the players arrive and we get things going.”

The list of players — officially at 43 as of Wednesday night — includes 17 skaters and two goalies with previous experience in a Maineiacs’ uniform, and three more who all played in the league last season with other clubs.

The shape in which the returning players present themselves will largely determine how many of the younger players have a legitimate shot to crack the lineup.

“We finished in the bottom three each of the last two years, and a lot of those players returning were on those teams,” Maineiacs’ coach J.F. Houle said. “That, to me, means every spot is available. If a guy doesn’t show up and compete, he won’t be on the team this year. That’s part of the business. There are more spots open than people might think.”

Champion is one of six goaltenders expected to be in camp. Both Jordan Kennedy and Tyler Piercy suited up last season for Lewiston. Also expected is highly-touted draftee Antoine Bibeau, and Russian Andrey Makarov, the 17-year-old drafted by the Maineiacs in the recent CHL Import Draft.

The meat of the Maineiacs’ roster this season will be 18- and 17-year-old players, though there will be four 19-year-olds and three 20-year-olds in the mix as well.

“It isn’t going to be an easy roster to crack,” Shannon said. “We drafted and recruited some good young players to come in and push the veterans. If spots open up, we’re hoping we’ll have all the guys in place to be able to step in.”

Shannon also confirmed that one player he had expected to attend camp next week will not be showing up, instead preferring to play Junior A this season and draw an actual paycheck.

“That’s something we can’t compete with,” Shannon said. “As major junior players, we can’t pay them.”

Shannon would not identify the player in question, and his name still officially appears on the camp list.

One player Shannon did confirm would be at camp is Lewiston-born 17-year-old Connor Anthoine. Drafted by the Maineiacs in the late rounds of the QMJHL Entry Draft in June, Anthoine has a verbal commitment to attend the University of Vermont.

“The great thing about him is that he lives locally, so he can stay pretty much as long as we need him to,” Shannon said.

Under NCAA rules, players retain their eligibility if they leave a paid tryout after 48 hours. However, self-financed tryouts, which is what Anthoine would have, can extend longer, so long as the player does not play in any games or travel on the organization’s dime.

“There’s a kid there who, depending on what he decides to do, could make our decision very tough,” Shannon said. “We drafted him, so the quick answer is, of course we’d like to see him make the team. And it would be great to have a young player from the area who stays and plays with the team longer than just one season.”

The players will begin camp Tuesday, but won’t hit the ice until Thursday. That will give the staff plenty of chance to evaluate each player’s fitness level.

“We’ll know, probably as soon as Tuesday night, who trained hard, who trained some and who didn’t train at all,” Shannon said. “Honestly, if a player didn’t train at all, it will be obvious.”

The team will suit up for on-ice practice sessions Thursday and Friday next week, and will play intrasquad games Thursday and Friday nights. The Maineiacs host Victoriaville in their lone home preseason game appearance Saturday, Aug. 21 at 7 p.m.

For the complete roster, visit In the Crease.


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