Team chemistry, unity, leadership and determination are some of the key words that keep reverberating around the Strathmore Family Centre when discussing the Wheatland Kings captains.
Kings head coach Shade Stoodley said that the process for selecting the captain and his three assistants was glaringly obvious.
“It was a pretty easy choice, there were four guys that stuck out the most,” said Stoodely, who is in his first year coaching the Kings. “These guys are all vocal and lead by experience.”
The Kings are captained by Keenan Ogle and followed by assistants Cole Busslinger, Brenden Moore and Hayden Vanderploeg.
All four captains played together on last season’s team that finished fifth in the South Division with a 13-23-2 record, getting ousted from the playoffs in the second round by the Cochrane Generals.
It’s that familiarity and having been through the Heritage Junior Hockey League season before that binds these men together as they embark on a new season.
“I think it’s good that all four of us played together last year. We know the league a little bit more than some of the new guys in the room and we are trying to lead the group in the right direction,” said Kings defensemen Moore, who served as a temporary captain to start the season.
The coaching staff landed on Ogle to be the captain for a number of reasons, but mainly because of the experience he brings to the table as he takes part in his third season with the Kings.
“It was a humbling experience to be named captain. It’s an honour to lead this team,” said Ogle, who served as an assistant captain during road games last season. “I take it upon myself to do the talking when coaches aren’t around during the pregame. We got to have our heads in it or I’ll crack the whip if need be.”
There is also some familiarity with Busslinger and Moore with the new coaching staff. The two played for Stoodley two years ago for the Wheatland Chiefs double-A midget team and won the South Central Alberta Hockey League title.
“Cole was my captain in midget and I couldn’t have picked a better captain back then. He was close to being the captain of this team but I decided to lean on the veteran,” said Stoodley. “Moore has really grown up and come around a lot as a player since I had him two years ago.”
“I’ll do anything to try and get our team back in the game,” said Busslinger, who tallied seven goals and 13 points last season. “I’ll hit someone, block a shot or go out there and try and make a nice play; anything to try and get the boys going.”
Both listed at 6-foot-3, Moore and Vanderploeg make up the twin towers on the back end for the Kings.
While Vanderploeg was a little surprised to be named a captain, he is embracing his new role on the team.
“I would say that I have changed a little bit since the start of the season. I’m trying to be more of a mentor, handle more responsibilities and be a better person,” said Vanderploeg, who scored four goals, 13 points and racked up 28 penalty minutes in 33 games last season.
“The big thing right now is that everyone has to be friends with everyone,” said Stoodley. “Not just within our captains but as a unit, and these guys are doing a great job bringing the team together. If you can have that chemistry from the start and it comes naturally, then you are built for success in the long run. We are going to be spending the next six months together, it’s important that we have that foundation in place.”
After a great start to the season, the Kings sit 2-4-1 following last weekends action. This group has a collective goal to be better than last year’s team.
“We want to win this year. To a man, no one likes losing. I want our team to play hard and make it difficult for teams to play us. We want to make the playoffs and take a run at the Keystone Cup,” said Ogle, a Calgary Flames fan who graduated from Bishop Carroll High School. “I’ve never been and it’s something I’ve always wanted.”
When Ogle isn’t at the rink rallying up his team, he’s either working, or out in the country hunting and fishing.
If you take a walk inside the Bass Pro Shop at CrossIron Mills, there’s a good chance Ogle has brought down each animal on the wall at some point. The Kings captain has bagged everything from deer to mountain lions, including a one-and-a-half-ton moose just over a year and a half ago.
Busslinger and Vanderploeg are both continuing their education in Calgary when they aren’t on the ice. Busslinger is in his second year of the petroleum-engineering program at SAIT, and Vanderploeg is studying civil engineering at the University of Calgary.
As for Moore, he works on fire sprinklers in buildings in Calgary away from the rink, but he can often be found after work around the Strathmore Family Centre watching his younger brothers play.