Oliver David appreciates hockey players who have chips on their shoulders and constantly feel as though they have something to prove.
The third-year head coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints hopes to see plenty of those kinds of players the next few days at Mystique Community Ice Center. Dubuque’s annual open tryout camp began Wednesday night and concludes with all-star games at 7:05 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
The camp is open to the public and free of charge.
“When I watch in practice, when I watch in our main camp and when I watch in games, I ask, ‘What’s this kid made of?’” David said. “You can’t hide when you’re out there. If you’re made of it, everyone who watches you play appreciates your contribution to your team.
“The players who have that chip on their shoulder and feel like they have something to prove are the kind of guys you want to have around. They check their egos at the door and attack the day-to-day so they can take advantage of Junior hockey and reach that goal of being an (NCAA) Division I player. Hockey is what gets them out of bed in the morning and puts them to bed early every day.”
The Saints’ camp includes 160 players divided into eight teams, named after former Dubuque standout players Mike Matheson, Hunter Miska, Eric Robinson, Matt Benning, Blake Hillman, Dylan Gambrell, Karson Kuhlman and Joakim Ryan. The all-star teams will be named after NHL all-stars Johnny Gaudreau and Zemgus Girgensons.
Roughly 50 of the camp participants are players already in the Saints system. That includes returning veterans, affiliates list players and those selected last month in the USHL Draft.
“We have more players from our protected list in camp than we’ve had in recent years, so I’m expecting the competition to be really good,” Saints general manager Kalle Larsson said. “It’s always good to see those guys in Dubuque, in our setting, so we can get to know them better. That’s always exciting.
“But, just as importantly, we have a chance for them to get to know what we’re all about, too. There’s an educational element to it, too, where we show the players (Dubuque Senior High School) and talk about life away from the ice. We try to make it a really good introduction to what Junior hockey is all about.”
The Saints have 13 players eligible to return from a team that finished above .500 for the ninth straight year, qualified for the playoffs for the ninth straight year and won at least one playoff round for the ninth straight year. Those are all the longest active streaks in the United States Hockey League.
But, based on the draft and the list of players invited to camp, as well as usual offseason movement, the number of actual returning players in the fall figures to be lower.
“The draft process creates competition, and the only way to get better is through competition,” David said. “You constantly have to prove yourself here, which is exactly what you can expect when you get to college. When you move from a freshman to a sophomore, nothing is given to you, and you have to prove yourself against the new freshmen.”