SAN ANTONIO – Northwoods Ice Center is buzzing again.
With eager fans looking on, more than 20 San Antonio Rampage players took the ice for the first day of training camp Monday morning, and a majority of the team is filled with fresh faces. Only seven players return from last year's squad, which finished at the bottom of the Central Division with a 31-38-6-1 overall record.
“This year is a different year," head coach Drew Bannister said. "We didn’t have the success we wanted to last year. We wanted to make sure that we brought in new blood and I think we’re going to be a younger, quicker team.”
“We have a lot of free agents and a good mix of returning guys, so we’re excited to put last year behind us and get going," general manager Kevin McDonald said. "We’re just over a week away, so the season is right around the corner.”
Time is of the essence if San Antonio is going to get off to a fast start. The Rampage only have three days of practice before their first preseason game Thursday night, and there are still a couple players, like returning forward Mitch Reinke, in-transit from training camp with the St. Louis Blues. Under those constraints, Bannister likes what he's seen from the group so far.
"There’s always a bit of nerves early on," Bannister said. "I think overall we were happy with how the pace went, and obviously with the quick turnaround from Monday to Thursday with games starting, we want to build in a little structure, too. We’ve been able to do that over the last two days. Our numbers are a little too high. You’d like to see the guys get a few more reps, but it is what it is. Overall, we're happy with where we are.”
“We seem to have a really fun group of guys," said forward Nolan Stevens. "Practice has been competitive, and we’re just excited to get the season going. It’s a lot of excitement around here.”
“It’s always good to get back here in a rhythm and get settled, meet all our new teammates, talk with all the coaches, staff, management, everybody," said returning defenseman Joey LaLeggia. "It’s all about team systems and getting on the same page, learning together. A lot of guys have never played together, so we’re trying to gel. That's key before next week.”
The Rampage will play the first of back-to-back preseason games against the Texas Stars Thursday at 7 p.m. San Antonio will open their regular season schedule Friday, Oct 4 at home against the Manitoba Moose.