Three former Gillette high school standouts-Austin Tennant, Brandon Castleberry and Sean Kelley – signed tenders Tuesday to play for the second-year junior squad in the 2012-13 season.
“It’s just a dream come true,” said Kelley, who played goalie for Gillette’s high school team, which won three consecutive statel titles. “In every sport, you want to advance to the next level.”
Wild coach Tom Winkler made it a point to recruit locally from the beginning of his tenure in Wyoming and brought in five Gillette natives for the expansion season. There are now six Gillette natives on the 2012-13 Wild roster.
It also helped that the tier-III assistant coach Nick Adamek coached the high school team.
Adamek and Winkler were able to gauge the incoming crop of talent and get a good feel for which players could make an impact at the next level of play.
“Drawing local talent has always been a goal and it definitely helps that the program is successful,” Adamek said. “It’d be a lot harder if the local players weren’t any good.”
Likewise, the addition of the junior team was a good opportunity for the high school players to showcase their skills and have a shot at continuing their careers.
“I’ve always wanted to go on and play at the junior level,” said Tennant, a defender.
Tennant, Castleberry and Kelley were able to participate in team practices. Castleberry also suited up and played a weekend with the Wild squad last October.
The experience helped Castleberry get a feel for the level of competition he will face at the next level. “I heard the junior team was going to be coming to Gillette and I got really excited,” he said.
All three additions to the Wild were also key ingredients for the Team Wyoming squad, which made history in March with its first ever win at the USA Hockey Tier II Midget AA national championship. Between the high-caliber competition at the national level and the multiple state titles, Castleberry, Tennant and Kelley have had their share of big game experience against tough opponents.
“It’s kind of both of those programs working together and giving these guys opportunities to compete at a higher level,” Winkler said. But there’s still plenty of work to do. The three Wild add-ons can expect a higher level of physicality and a faster-pace style of play. What’s more, preseason practice can only do so much to help the transition.
“That will come with us as the time goes on,” Castleberry said.