It isnâ€™t easy building a winning team, especially one that finished with a 7-33-2-2 record last season.
Washington Junior Nationals coach Anthony DiPalma isnâ€™t leaving any stone unturned as he tries to recruit players who will produce victories in the Eastern Hockey League.
With eight openings on the roster as of late July â€“ six forwards and two defensemen â€“ he still has some work to do before training camp opens Aug. 12.
â€œIâ€™m a little more stressed than I thought I would be at this point of the summer,â€ he said. â€œWe do so well placing kids in college hockey programs and we compete in every game, despite what our record shows. I thought we would be further along.â€
DiPalma said he may need to change his philosophy and shoot for a different level of player who needs more development. In other words, he said, go to a Plan B.
â€œOur ownership is happy about how well weâ€™ve done getting kids into college, but weâ€™ve got to start winning,â€ he said. â€œEveryone in the organization is tired of losing. With the level of talent in our league, that takes a lot of hard work.â€
The Junior Nationals placed 25 players in college hockey programs the past two seasons, one of the top numbers in the league. Every player who aged out found a spot on a college team.
DiPalma said potential players and their parents rarely bring up the Junior Nationalsâ€™ losing record during discussions.
â€œI bring it up myself as part of the recruiting process,â€ he said. â€œKids need to know that in 83 percent of the games we lost last season, we outshot the other team, basically outplayed them. We just couldnâ€™t bury in the puck in the back of the net. We need players who can score.â€
The Junior Nationalsâ€™ three-week training camp will follow the same format as last year.
All players, whether theyâ€™re slotted to play on the Junior Nationalsâ€™ EHL or Metropolitan Junior Hockey League teams, will be together on and off the ice for the first two weeks. DiPalma wants players to work to earn those vaunted EHL spots.
By the time camp opens, DiPalma said, he hopes to have 50 players signed up for the Junior Nationalsâ€™ junior teams, 25 on each team. The key, of course, is obtaining more EHL-level players.
Players looking to play junior hockey are invited to the camp for a tryout. For information, go to the Junior Nationalsâ€™ website at www.jrnats.org and contact DiPalma.
– Steve Stein
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