Today’s training camp update sends us to Roanoke, Peoria, and Huntsville as teams across the Southern Professional Hockey League prepare for their preseason games.

Rail Yard Dawgs Prepare for a Historic Trip

Saturday’s preseason tilt for the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs will be against a familiar foe in a historic location. The team will travel south to face off with the Fayetteville Marksmen at Fort Bragg, North Carolina – the first professional hockey game played at an active military installation.

The gravity of such a game is not lost on coach Dan Bremner, saying, “We’re excited to take part in such a game. I’ll probably take in the atmosphere a bit, but there’s still a game to focus on.”

Bremner will have plenty to evaluate on his visit to Fort Bragg. The Dawgs find themselves having to fill several holes in their roster prior to opening night next Friday. Forwards Cody Dion and Jordan Carvalho are back in Peoria. Last year’s captain, Steve Mele, along with Colin Murray are now retired from hockey. Finally, Jacob Caffrey, the goaltender who backstopped the Dawgs’ Challenge Round upset of the Rivermen, also decided to move on from the game.

“We took plenty of hits to our top-six (forwards),” said Bremner, “but it opens up plenty of opportunities for others to step up and win a job.”

Caffrey’s departure opens up an unexpected training camp battle. Michael Stiliadis and Jake Theut will compete to be the second half of the Dawgs goaltending tandem with former Rivermen goalie Stephen Klein.

Look for Klein to sit out the game at Fort Bragg on Saturday. “I want to take a good look at (Stiliadis and Theut) and see how they perform in a game situation and evaluate them from there,” said Bremner.

Rivermen Rebuilding Forward Lines

As the summer season progressed, Peoria Rivermen coach Jean-Guy Trudel found himself in a dilemma. Only one forward from last season’s team – team captain Alec Hagaman – was returning to the team.

Trudel would wind up reacquiring the services of former players as he retooled the offensive side of his training camp roster. Cody Dion would be the first player to return to Peoria. Dion was unprotected by the Rail Yard Dawgs after last season after planning to retire from hockey. After reconsidering his decision to retire, Dion signed with the Rivermen on July 30th.

“I reached out to Cody after I saw he wasn’t protected,” said Trudel. “He told me of his plan to retire and I left it at that. After a few weeks,” Trudel continued, “Cody texted me and said he was interested in coming back… and we took it from there.”

A five-player trade with the Fayetteville Marksmen would bring in winger Darren McCormick. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Trudel mentioned after watching him in training camp, “I knew he was a good scorer, but I think there’s more energy to his game.”

Finally, on the eve of the start of training camp, Trudel signed Jordan Carvalho. Like Dion, Carvalho – a Rail Yard Dawg last season – flirted with retirement but elected to return to Peoria.

One of the rookies high on Trudel’s radar in camp this year is Ted Hart. A four-year starter from Yale, Hart impressed Trudel with a fast motor and a high hockey IQ. Still, the Rivermen coach tempers his expectations on striking gold the way he did with Ben Blasko last season. “I don’t know if I have that next high-scoring rookie,” said Trudel, “but I think I have a bunch of good pieces.”

Trudel will have his first opportunity to fit pieces into place on Saturday night when his Rivermen meet the Quad City Storm in both teams’ lone exhibition match.

Back to Business for the Back-to-Back Champs

Last season, the Huntsville Havoc became the third team to win back-to-back SPHL championships. Fortunately for coach Glenn Detulleo, the core group of the Havoc remains mostly intact for the 2019-20 season.

Mostly. Former captain Christian Powers elected to retire after last season. Sixty-two point scorer Ryan Salkeld landed an ECHL job in Norfolk. John Schiavo, a clutch playmaker, is now playing for the Quad City Storm.

After losing half of his top-six forwards from the 2018-19 squad, the Havoc regained the services of Shawn Bates. Bates, a dynamic playmaker, was a point-per-game player in 2017-18 before playing semi-pro in Canada last year. “Bates is the type of player who can jump into out top-six without a problem,” said Detulleo.

However, the conventional thinking of having top-six forwards doesn’t gel with Detulleo’s thinking. “Last year, we didn’t think of ourselves as having a top-six, but a top-nine,” said Detulleo.

An accurate statement, given Huntsville’s offensive production across all three lines last season.

As the Havoc play the Knoxville Ice Bears in home-and-home exhibitions this weekend, Detulleo will look for the rookies on his camp roster to stand out. “I wouldn’t say (any of the rookies) have separated themselves yet because they all have looked good so far,” said Detulleo of his new prospects.

Some teams riding a long run of success can develop complacency issues, something Detulleo nipped quickly in the bud. “We’ve been successful for two years, but this team hasn’t done anything. They haven’t won a game yet,” said Detulleo.

“We’ve replaced a third of our roster with new guys. They’re hungry for success and they’re going to push the other guys.”

The newcomers made an impact in Huntsville’s 5-4 exhibition loss in Knoxville Friday night. Three of the Havoc’s four goals were scored by rookies. Egor Kostyukov scored the first preseason goal while Brett Johnson netted two scores.

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