Twin City Thunder’s Nick Rashkovsky pulls away from Jersey Hitmen’s Tyler Borsch during an USPHL NCDC junior hockey game in Auburn on Dec. 14, 2019. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Twin City Thunder coach and co-owner Dan Hodge was unsure if the team’s main camp was going to happen.

The organization originally scheduled it for the middle of July, but the coronavirus pandemic altered plans and created doubt about the camp’s feasibility. A potential cancellation was only a postponement, and the Thunder are set to hold their camp this week, Wednesday through Sunday, at Norway Savings Bank Arena.

The Thunder are expecting 100-plus players to participate in the camp, which is closed to the public.

It wasn’t until last week Hodge knew preparations for the 2020-21 season were just around the corner.

“You get to the point in the summer (wondering) if it’s ever going to happen, and now you are ready to go,” Hodge said. “I was on the other side last week, with my summer camps, and I was able to see the (Maine) Nordiques kids going in and out (of the Norway Savings Bank Arena), and I was like, it’s getting real now. It was exciting for sure.”

Hodge also runs the Hodge Hockey Summer Camps and held dryland sessions in the parking lot at Norway Savings Bank Arena last Wednesday, the second of two days of the Nordiques’ main camp taking place inside the Thunder’s home arena because the Androscoggin Bank Colisee wasn’t quite ready.

Hodge and the rest of the coaching staff are essentially starting from scratch in terms of building the Thunder’s 2020-21 roster for their United States Premier Hockey League’s National Collegiate Development Conference team. Only three players from last year’s team will be at this week’s camp: forwards Nick Rashkovsky (20 goals and 16 assists), John Kondub (11 goals, 24 assists) and Martin Moiffer (four goals, five assists).

Twin City Thunder’s Nick Rashkovsky gets slammed against the board but keeps his eye on the puck as it skitters over to teammate John Kondub during a game against the Northern Cyclones last season at Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Zachary Desmarais, who was set to play his third year with the organization, is not returning to the team because the Drummondville, Quebec native can’t cross the border due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions. Hodge said European players, such as defensemen Adam Svensson and Oliver Rooth, aren’t able to get out of Sweden at this moment.

“I kind of had a feeling we would be missing kids from Europe this year, I kinda knew it with the COVID stuff,” Hodge said. “I wanted to be ahead of the game, so I erred on recruiting North American kids. At the end of the day, if the border opens and things change, we will see, we will (focus on) that when it gets there.”

One European player who has been in the area is Russian Sergei Anisimov, who has played the past two seasons with the L/A Nordiques. He attended Nordiques camp last week to prepare for the Thunder’s camp, and Anisimov said he’s planning on playing for Twin City this season. Hodge has seen Anisimov skate at Norway Saving Bank Arena all summer and hopes the camp reconfirms the work Anisimov has during the offseason.

Hodge reached out to goaltender Alexander Kozic to see what his plans were for the upcoming season. The London, England, native is still heading to Bowdoin College, to which he committed at the end of last season. With Bowdoin postponing sports until Jan. 1 there was a chance Kozic and fellow former Thunder player Gonzalo Hagerman may wait a season to join the Polar Bears and return to the Thunder, but both are still committed to Bowdoin for the 2020-21 season. Polar Bears coach Jamie Dumont said last month that only one of his players has opted out of the upcoming season, if it happens, to return to junior hockey.

The roster for the camp isn’t totally finalized, and Hodge is in talks with a few local players about attending, even if it’s just for the experience, including two NCDC Future Draft picks.

“We talked to a couple kids from Lewiston High School,” Hodge said. “Obviously, Brock Bergeron, we drafted him in (the) futures draft; (Falmouth native) Brock James, as well, another kid we drafted in the futures draft. We are talking to them about coming and seeing where they are.

Lewiston’s Brock Bergeron, right, celebrates one of his two first period goals with teammate Owen Cox during a game in the 2019-20 season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“You keep saying the COVID stuff, but you never know what’s going to happen with COVID, if the high school sports are going to go or not. At the end of the day, if in fact (high school sports) don’t play, we want to make sure we get a look at them and see where they fit.”

Bergeron was a freshman on last year’s Lewiston team that won the Class A state championship. He had 14 goals and six assists in 21 games, including two goals in the 5-1 semifinal win over South Portland/Waynflete/Freeport. James played at Berwick Academy and tallied 12 goals and six assists in 29 games.

Having main camp this late in the summer isn’t ideal, but Hodge said that it has some positives.

“I think there are some players that may have been released from other (teams) or whatever (who are) still looking at an opportunity,” Hodge said. “We kind of had some kids reach out, there are definitely some opportunities for kids.”

Hodge is trying to keep his mind open to all the players, which will be easier because he only attended one day last month’s USPHL Summer Showcase. From what he did see, Hodge said forwards David Rankin, a draft pick in June’s NCDC draft, and tender signee Nate Chickering had good showings at the showcase, as did free agent defenseman P.J. Donahue.

“To be quite honest with you, I only made it down to the showcase one game,” Hodge said. “I did it by design in a way because I didn’t want to have any preconceived notions coming into camp. I wanted every player to be on the same level. When you go to a showcase you may start looking at a player differently. I want everybody to have same opportunity.”

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