For the first time Thursday, the Pueblo Bulls hockey team was finally able to go out and do what the past year of work has been building toward: playing hockey.
The Junior A Tier II squad held the first run of its three-day open prospect camp Friday at the Pueblo Ice Arena with 30 players participating.
Players took part in drills for the first 30 minutes while the rest of the hour and half was filled with three periods of normal action between the Red Team and the Black Team.
(Photo of Dixon Root by Austin White)
“We’re looking for players that can, obviously, play the game, that have played at high levels and know the game of hockey,” Bulls coach Chris Wilhite said. “Myself, I was a D-man, so we’re trying to build from the net out.
“We believe defense wins championship, so we’re starting with the back end and moving forward.”
After announcing their first two signees on April 23, the Bulls have officially added six more players to their roster.
Wilhite also indicated three players from the Czech Republic will sign as well, pushing the total to 11.
Wilhite previously mentioned hopes for an initial roster of 30 when the season begins in October. The team can still make additions and cuts all the way to a final deadline during the season in December as the Bulls are a part of the Western States Hockey League.
“For us, being a new team, first-year team in an inaugural season, we feel very comfortable where we’re at right now,” Wilhite said about the roster-filling process. “With all of these other North American League cuts and still this tryout to go, there’s still more players filling in and more interest coming to our team.”
(Photo of Sean Meier by Austin White)
As for the action on the ice, players are here to prove a point from the physicality they displayed and the hope of impressing the Bulls’ coaching staff.
One of the best highlights from the scrimmage came in the third period when Kale Lone from Regis Jesuit High School faked out his defender with a hard cut in front of the goal and found the back of the net for the Red Team.
Later in the third, Bulls signee Brock McQuistan made his own highlight with a near three-quarters length pass down the ice to an open teammate, leading to a goal for the Black Team, who eventually won 5-4.
“I’m really pleased with what we saw on the ice,” Wilhite said. “For being an open camp, a lot of kids are out of town. We obviously have some altitude going on so for the first day of camp, I think these kids showed a lot.”
The camp also featured a heavy local flavor with 10 of the 30 players coming from the Pueblo County hockey program.
Seeing the local turnout for the camp appears as a positive sign for Wilhite and the Bulls’ organization as they continue to try to leave their mark in Pueblo.
“Coming in, (Pueblo) obviously has a high school team here, but you never really know how many kids are interested in moving on to the next level,” Wilhite said. “By the showing out here, they are. They’re interested, they want to play hockey, they love the game of hockey and they want to move on as far as they can.”
The open camp continues today at 2:30 p.m. and ends Sunday with another scrimmage from 10 a.m.-noon.
After the camp, the Bulls could offer more contracts to any players they found impressive and invite them to join the squad.
(Photo of Kale Lone by Austin White)
The Bulls will also have an invite training camp later in the year to narrow down their roster and fill any needed positions before October.
For now, getting on the ice for the first team as an organization is an exciting step as the Bulls move closer toward a regular season puck drop.
“It was a long time coming, we’ve been waiting for this day for about a year now,” Wilhite said. “We’re very excited with the players we have out here now and the players we are talking to.
“It’s showing to the city that we are here, we’re live, we’re well and to the players that are coming in, it’s no joke and we’re here now and it’s time to get going.”