In case you were seeking more proof that the South is respected in hockey circles, look no further than the Weyburn Red Wings’ decision to hold a tryout camp in Nashville this year.
The Red Wings have a well-earned reputation as one of the most successful franchises in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, a tier II junior A league. Led by Dwight McMillan, the second-winningest coach in all of junior hockey, with 920 victories, Weyburn has consistently been one of the top junior teams north of the border.
In order to further its tradition of excellence, Weyburn held a tryout camp April 29 and 30 at the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville. It was the first SJHL camp ever held in the U.S., let alone in the South. McMillan, along with assistant coach Darcy Pindus and scout Kelly Klippenstein, watched some of the top young talent in USA Hockey’s Southeastern District show off their skills.
McMillan liked what he saw, saying, “I’m very surprised with the great talent that’s down here. There’s some great players here, especially the younger players.”
McMillan was impressed enough to offer invitations to Weyburn’s tryout camp, August 27-30, to 20 kids from the Southeast, roughly half of whom are old enough to play for Weyburn now.
Among those who received invites and are old enough to play junior hockey were James Hogan and Derek Kimbro, forwards with the Southern Flyers midget program in Nashville, and goalie Nicolas Wydock, who played with Centennial High School, also in Nashville.
Others who were invited but aren’t old enough to play junior are goalie Dylan Wells of the Southern Flyers bantam program, defenseman Jay Cox from Knoxville, Ryan Jasinsky from Virginia and Nick Petrarca from Arkansas.
Klippenstein said Weyburn would be interested in the underage players in a year or two. “You basically get an evaluation of a kid at a camp like this. If we think he’s a prospect, we’ll watch him through the year and the following year to see if he’s made any progression as far as his ability and if he’s gotten a little bit better at his weaknesses,” Klippenstein said. “Good kids always get missed. It’s just a matter of teams that are most successful are the teams that miss the least.”
Now that all of the invitations have been made, the players will have a couple of weeks to respond.
“We’ve eliminated the first step of kids having to go up there and be seen the first time,” Klippenstein said. “Now, the kid’s being seen by the head coach and by the assistant coach. If they get a letter, they know that the coach has personally seen them and has an interest in them. And for them to invest their time up there is worth it.”
Both Klippenstein and McMillan said there are options for kids who don’t make the Weyburn squad as a result of the tryout.
“What can happen is, they can go to prep school and then come to us, they can go and play junior B and develop, and then come up and play with us,” McMillan said.
Klippenstein added that if Weyburn doesn’t have room for a player who is good enough to play Junior A, the Red Wings will pass his name along to another junior A coach.
“Once they get to us, our whole main goal is to get them into college hockey, whether it’s in Canada or in the States,” McMillan said. “We feel that the kids are apprenticing for their future. And, by gosh. if they can get an NCAA scholarship, you’re talking probably $100,000-plus, and that’s an investment for a couple of years for the kid and for the parent.”