Head coach Jeff Wagner. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press/File

Head coach Jeff Wagner. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press/File

Ghostriders switch gears, prep for another season

The Fernie Ghostriders are looking forward to another strong season, despite the fact it will be a very different team.

Entering into the 2019/20 season in September, the Ghostriders will look, and sound different. In addition to some structural changes at the coaching level, the team will also be missing several familiar faces that the Elk Valley has come to know on the roster over the years.

Taking a seat on the coaching bench beside head coach Jeff Wagner and Assistant Coach Jered Neufeld will be new assistant coach/general manager, Tal Claudt, who hails from Calgary. Strapping on his skates as the new goalie coach is Elkford’s own Thomas Skelton, Vice Principal of Rocky Mountain Elementary School (RMES).

Claudt will fill the shoes of past assistant coach Justin Peers, who has decided to pursue a career with the RCMP.

“I’d like to thank Justin Peers for all of his hard work that he put towards the team last year,” said Wagner.

“For Justin it was a job that he wouldn’t have done much longer than this year, if he would have come back… it was a short-term thing for him, but we felt he asserted himself very well and brought a lot to the table last year.”

Moving into this year, Wagner explained that the team is looking to improve their areas of skill development for their players, goalie development for their goalies, as well as social media presence for the team.

“I’m a coach who’s more of an x’s and o’s guy – more strategic. My background isn’t a skills development background. So that’s something I’m really excited to work with, (with) Tal this year,” said Wagner.

“That’s his expertise, and I think it’s going to mesh really well with my style of coaching, and that’s the decision we went with this year.”

Months have passed since the Ghostriders season ended, in the second round of playoffs. Looking back, Wagner is proud of what they accomplished.

In addition to being pleased with his team’s compete level, he also felt that they re-established themselves as a group, established the culture they wanted, which he believes will carry on into the next season.

“Moving into this season, we’re really optimistic that we can carry that momentum forward with our group of returning guys,” Wagner explained.

The Junior B team lost five 20-year-old players at the conclusion of last season, as well as three of their eight 19-year-olds.

In addition to these eight players lost, at least two, with a potential third, have been recruited for Junior A teams. Officially, Sawan Gill and Kyle Ford have signed.

“Right there you’re losing about 11 or 12 guys, some solid guys, but we really believe that with the core group coming back, you plug in some high-level first-year guys and we’ll be right back on track.”

Twenty-six-year-old Claudt has a history in junior hockey – and played with the Kimberley Dynamiters for several years. He got into coaching through the Quadrant system in Calgary, and working four years in the northwestern quadrant, the last year being Bantam Triple A. At the same time he was employed by Hockey Canada, where he was able to refine his training as a skills coach. Before signing to the Ghostriders he was employed by the Global Sport Academy Group in Calgary in the STIX program.

Many years before this, Claudt was a young hockey player with dreams and ambitions. And this is what brought him back to Fernie.

“The first game ever that I witnessed for junior hockey, I was probably nine, 10 years old, and it was a game in this barn,” said Claudt, standing in the lobby of Fernie Memorial Arena.

He said he’s excited to immerse himself in Fernie during the winter, which he described as being vibrant and alive. In addition to this, he said he’s excited to help coach for a team with such a large fanbase.

“You look at the perks of a junior hockey team and Fernie checked at lot of the boxes there, with the rink and the support,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to be involved in; a community that can rally around the hockey team.”

Skelton, says he’s excited to immerse himself back into hockey, while still remaining dedicated to his roles in Elkford.

“I’m the Vice Principal of RMES in Elkford, where my main focus is,” he said. “But this opportunity seemed like a great fit to continue to contribute to the Elk Valley community and allows me to scratch my itch of coaching competitively again.”

Previously, Skelton worked as an associate coach for a Junior A team in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He also played junior hockey as well as one year of university-level hockey in Regina. Following this and before coming to Elkford, he spent five years as a radio commentator for the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos.

“Getting to know Jeff, the opportunity came up to help and it fit in with my schedule. He is a great leader and our philosophy’s seem to work well together so it was a no brainer to help out with this community,” said Skelton.

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Ghostriders biggest fan.  Phil McLachlan/The Free Press/File

Ghostriders biggest fan. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press/File

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