What a difference a year can make.
Last season Hayden Davis arrived at training camp for the Niagara IceDogs as a promising, but untested, rookie who was going to have to struggle for minutes on team stacked with veteran defencemen.
This time around, things are a whole lot different.
“It is only one year but it makes a huge difference,” Davis said Wednesday during training camp at Meridian Centre. “All the experience I got last year, I came out there yesterday with all the guys and I honestly felt great.”
“Even though it is just one year, it’s such a difference.”
Davis had to fight for time last season as a rookie on a team laden with veteran defencemen.
“Coming in if you looked at the roster I was aware of the situation coming in,” Davis said. “I still got a fair opportunity and I think I made the most of it.”
“It’s kind of my time now.”
Davis admitted it was tough at times sitting or getting only a few shifts a game when he did dress.
“(It was) especially (hard) when you look at the team we had last year with so many older guys,” he said. “It’s a little bit different for the rookies coming in this year because we’re going to have such a young team. We don’t have that many older guys here.”
“I remember coming here last year being thrown in with a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds. It was tough, but it was good.”
IceDogs coach head Dave Bell said Davis has already opened some eyes in the first couple of days of camp.
“Confidence is a generic answer, but confidence is a powerful, powerful, powerful thing,” Bell said. “Last year he comes in as a rookie and he’s got five drafted guys ahead of him, and he knows it’s an uphill battle.”
“In the very first skate (Tuesday), he just took the puck and took off. There was no hesitation. He’s always had that ability, but that’s just confidence. You can tell he’s a different guy. He’s knows there’s an opportunity for him. Good players recognize that and they grab it. You can tell his mind set is different and that sets everything in motion.”
Davis, who got into 40 games as a rookie, will be counted on much more this season with Vince Dunn, Blake Siebenaler, Blake Wesley and Alex Mikulovich all gone.
“I see him playing big, big minutes. He can be on the power play, and we’ve hired a skating coach who is going to work with him,” Bell said. “He’s not going to play Vince Dunn minutes, but if he is in shape I see him getting up to the 19 or 20 minutes.”
“He has put the work in for his conditioning. It’s hard to come from seven or eight minutes to 20. I hope he can do it, I think he can. Those minutes are there.”
Bell sees Davis as the type of defenceman who will be able to contribute on both sides of the puck.
“He’ll run a power play for us,” he said. “He’s an offensive guy. He’s really composed with the puck. Even last year he was composed with the puck. He skates well enough and sticks well enough to be able to defend.”
“He’s not quite a shutdown guy yet but his strengths are his composure and his ability to move the puck. His strength is his offence right now.”
Davis is excited for the opportunity.
“I was kind of worked in slow and I had to get used to the pace, but after having that one year under my belt, there’s no reason I can’t be the guy this year,” he said.
Davis is also looking forward to being part of the IceDogs retooling this season.
“There is a cycle every three or four years. It just so happens for us it’s this year, but I think we’re still going to have a great team,” he said. “We have a lot of young talent and if we all come together as a team and if we buy into the new coach’s system, which I think all of us do, we’ll do just fine.”
Camp continues Thursday beginning at 9:45 a.m. The first round of cuts will be made following the Black-White intersquad game at 7 p.m.
The IceDogs take on the Barrie Colts Friday at Thorold Community Arena in their first exhibition game. Game time is 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. All proceed from the game are going to the Thorold Athletic Association.