Carter Savoie and Micheal Benning considered their experience at the Dubuque Fighting Saints’ camp last summer as the perfect springboard into their first seasons of Junior hockey.

The St. Albert, Alberta, natives both represented the Sherwood Park Crusaders on the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s all-rookie team after dynamic seasons. As 2002 birth year affiliates-list players for Dubuque, they returned to Mystique Community Ice Center this week with an eye on playing for the Saints down the road.

This year, they accompanied Savoie’s younger brother, Matthew, considered one of the top 2004 birth year players in the world, to the four-day camp. All three players have verbally committed to play at the University of Denver.

“Coming to camp last year was a big first step for everything and really led into what I did during the regular season with the Crusaders,” Carter Savoie said. “It also helped that we had a lot of great teammates in Sherwood Park who helped us get acclimated to Junior hockey and helped us grow.

“I feel so much more mature as both a player and as a person this year as opposed to last year when I was here. You just feel stronger, bigger and more complete after a year of Junior.”

Carter Savoie, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound left wing, registered 31 goals, 73 points and 67 penalty minutes in 58 games with the Crusaders. The AJHL named him as its rookie of the year.

Benning, a 5-9, 170-pound right defenseman, led the AJHL in scoring by a defenseman. The younger brother of Matthew Benning, who helped Dubuque to the 2013 Clark Cup championship and now plays defense for the Edmonton Oilers, he accumulated 10 goals, 61 points and 99 penalty minutes in 60 games.

“It’s a big difference between coming here for camp this year,” Benning said. “Last year, I got a pretty good feel for what the USHL is like. But this year, it’s not so much about feeling as it is about going out and doing. There are a lot of really good players here, so you have to play your best and show your skill and work ethic.”

Dubuque selected Benning and Carter Savoie in the USHL Futures Draft last spring. The plan is to return to Sherwood Park this season and play the following season in Dubuque before heading off to Denver.

Matthew Savoie, at age 15, won’t be eligible to play Junior hockey until the 2020-21 season. But he jumped at the opportunity to get a feel for the USHL by attending Dubuque’s camp. It helped to have an older brother and close friend to mentor him this week.

The 5-9, 172-pound forward tallied 31 goals, 71 points and 53 penalty minutes in 31 games for the Northern Alberta X-Treme Prep team. The Canadian Sport School Hockey League named him its MVP after the X-Treme won the league championship.

“This is obviously a great learning experience for me,” Matthew Savoie said. “You get to see the bigger competition. Everyone’s faster. Everyone’s played here before. It’s a big learning curve and a matter of getting more comfortable with this level. But it helps so much to come here with guys who have been here before and can show you how you have to compete.

“From what I’ve seen the last few days, this is a first-class organization. Everyone’s here to help you get better. They want to see you succeed as a player and as a person. And, obviously, they have a history of winning. It’s exciting.”

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