The Gillette Wild of the North American Tier 3 Hockey League start its regular season with games Friday and Saturday in Great Falls, Montana.
The players began practicing less than two weeks ago, but with two exhibition games (1-1) played against Sheridan, coach Steven Kruk said he feels the team is prepared going into the season’s start against the Great Falls Americans.
“We’re getting better every single day. The compete level’s been extremely high, and I think we’ve got a group of quality human beings who want to come to the rink and get better every single day,” Kruk said. “I like the direction that we’re trending.”
Most players on the roster come from towns much lower in elevation, and acclimatizing to the 4,500-feet high city of Gillette and other high-altitude surrounding cities is always a challenge in the first couple of weeks or so.
No captains have been selected but Jacob Kaminski and Ethan Becker are two returning players Kruk said have looked like solid leaders through the first two exhibition games.
A starting goalie hasn’t been chosen as well for the first game, though all four played last weekend, and Kruk said that was a game-time decision because of the compete level in practice.
“I won’t make that call until Friday because its still two more days of practice, two more days of guys that can prove themselves and compete,” Kruk said.
The Wild has to drive 7.5 hours in a bus on Friday and play that night. Every away game destination is hours away, and the bus-lag usually makes the team perform worse in the first game than the second, Kruk said.
Great Falls took second in the then-seven-team Frontier Division last season (Sheridan is a new team in the division for 2019-20). They finished 38-8 in last year’s regular season.
“Great Falls is a good team, they’re a deep team. I believe they are returning at least 10 or 11 veterans from last year,” Kruk said. “It’s going to be a rowdy environment. Let’s put it this way: It’s not going to be a cupcake game.”
This year’s Wild is different from last year in what Kruk has seen so far.
“As compared to last year, I do definitely think the compete level, day in and day out, has been higher,” Kruk said. “It’s a group that wants to be here, and I do think it’s a group that believes in themselves and in each other.”