TRURO - They may not mean much in terms of standings, but preseason games are huge for a Truro Bearcats coaching staff looking to shape the club for the 2012-13 campaign.
Tune up contests are the coaching staff's only chance to get a look at players in game situations before teams start playing for keeps in the Maritime Junior Hockey League.
The Bearcats host the Pictou County Crushers in their only preseason home date Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Colchester Legion Stadium. It will be Truro's only home tilt until five games into the regular season when they welcome the Campbellton Tigers Sept. 29.
Truro edged Pictou County 5-4 in overtime last night in New Glasgow in their first exhibition meeting.
"It's important," Bearcats head coach and general manager Shawn Evans said of the game. "We want to get the guys in that we want to get ready for the season and some guys are still trying to make a bid for the team and this is their opportunity."
Evans said he's been impressed with what he's seen from the 31 players in camp this week and admits he's been surprised with several. Saturday's tilt will help show if those players are the real deal.
"There are some interesting scenarios going on," Evans said. "Now is a chance to see if what we've been seeing is what they've really got to offer."
Evans has also been busy working the phones looking for players who could potentially help boost his club in what will be an important season with the team moving into the new civic centre this fall before hosting the Fred Page Cup eastern Canadian championship in the spring. Training camp, especially its preseason tilts, give players their chance to make sure they aren't overlooked.
"It's a busy time because you're trying to add to the team," Evans said. "But sometimes you can forget what's right in front of you and I want to make sure I don't do that."
There's an endless list of criteria Bearcats staff look at when evaluating a player in the preseason, including the needs of the team, the player's ability and level of competitiveness, if he has any leadership qualities, his attitude, his desire to improve and his ability to handle the rigours of junior hockey.
"There's a wide variety of things you like to see," Evans said. "But you want to make it difficult for the coaches to make decisions and that's what we hope to see."
But Evans said he's in no hurry to make player decisions just yet. He made this year's group of players a small one in order to give Bearcats hopefuls plenty of opportunity to prove themselves.
There is competition from within," he said. "This is a big season for us and we want to find the guys who want to be here at the end and want to represent our team at the end of the season when it matters most. But as a staff we have to set a tone and get the players playing the way we want them to play."