Finally ready to go

After being a redshirt during the 2019-20 season and missing the 2020-21 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S.-born goaltender Blake Weyrick may finally make his debut for the Lakehead Thunderwolves this fall.

Grabbing a program when attending a Lakehead Thunderwolves men’s hockey game this fall would be your best bet.

There are 11 forwards, four defencemen and two goaltenders who will be making their maiden appearances as Wolves in the 2021-22 campaign.

Among them is Blake Weyrick. The goaltender played for the U.S. National under-17 and U-18 teams back in the 2013-14 season. The 25-year-old Malibu, Calif., native counted current NHLers Auston Matthews, Zach Werenski and Matthew Tkachuk as teammates on that squad.

“(Weyrick’s) got a lot of pedigree. He’s a great kid, works hard, he’s a leader,” said Thunderwolves coach Andrew Wilkins during a captain’s workout at the Thunder Bay Tournament Centre earlier this week. “During our last season he was in his red shirt year. He was eligible to play this last season, didn’t happen. It’s a long time coming for him. He’s excited and it looks like he’s ready to go.”

Newcomer Max Wright joins Weyrick in net, with holdover Brock Aiken and Doug Newhouse in the goaltending mix.

LU holds its first practice on Monday night at 8 p.m. at the Tournament Centre, followed by an intrasquad scrimmage. It will mark the team’s first official activity since the OUA playoffs in February 2020. The entire 2020-21 Canadian university season was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team just signed their latest player earlier this week. The roster remains under construction.

Wilkins wasn’t sure of exactly how many players will hit the ice Monday and was “unsure yet” about potential roster cuts.

“You’re always recruiting, always ongoing. We’ll see what happens,” he said. “It’s 24/7. We’re always recruiting. For this year I would say for the most part we’re done. You can still bring in guys. I think the deadline for enrollment is the 20th (of September). You can still brings guys in after Christmas potentially.”

The first wave of signings from the summer of 2020 included forwards Kevin Stiles and Dylan Massie, and defencemen Noah Massie and Colin Van Den Hurk. Dylan and Noah Massie are twin brothers.

The recent commitments will be announced by Wilkins in a forthcoming press release expected next week. The program is undergoing a behind-the-scenes overhaul that could include the school’s athletic department taking over administrative duties of the hockey team, which is a separate entity from the other varsity teams.

LU begins the regular season with eight consecutive home games, starting Nov. 4-6 against York. Other opponents include during the homestand include Ryerson and Toronto. The Wolves hit the road for the first time during the first week of January against Ryerson.

The team doesn’t touch the Gardens ice again until Feb. 18-19 against the Brock Badgers to off the regular season.

“We’re just happy we’re playing. We’re happy we have a schedule,” said Wilkins. “Whatever we get we’ll be happy with it. Just looking to getting back to anything. That’s exciting for us.”

Wilkins enters his third season as head coach as the Thunderwolves -- fourth if you include last year’s COVID-19 campaign. Like everyone else, he’s jubilant to see a season shaping up.

“Such a long time coming. A lot of us were chatting today. It’s like the year that just happened was just crazy,” he said. “Now that we’re back to playing hockey again it’s like we’re back to normal, we’re happy. Guys are sore. We’re going through those first week of non-official skates, getting to know each other, getting a feel for one another. That, to me, is great.”

Plans are in the works for non-conference games in late October.

The Wolves lost 17 players from the 2019-20 squad, including their three top scorers — Tomas Soustal, Daniel Del Paggio and Josh Laframboise. They retained nine players.

Assistant coach Brennan Menard moved up the hockey ladder.

“Losing Brennan to Kitchener (OHL Rangers) was awesome for him. We’re so excited he’s moved on to Kitchener with a really good program. That happened mid-summer,” said Wilkins.

As far as growth as a coach, Wilkins, 33, feels that happened despite a cancelled season.

“There’s all sorts of things that you can learn with experience. Your love for the game continues to grow, your love for development is there,” he said. “You’re constantly watching the NHL or you’re constantly watching your recruits and picking up on different styles of play. I like to think I definitely grew as a person during the pandemic for sure. It’s ongoing. . . . For the kids we have here, they’re so excited to be here. Can’t wait to get started.”