While the NHL lockout is in full effect, the Augusta RiverHawks are preparing to return to the ice.
The Southern Professional Hockey League regular-season champion from last season opens training camp Monday. As of Friday, the team had 27 players in town, including 10 returners.
“We’ve got quite a few guys coming in,” first-year coach Rob Miller said. “It should be quite a competitive camp.”
Miller was hired to replace Brad Ralph, who was the 2010-11 SPHL Coach of the Year.
After leading Augusta to 71 wins in two seasons, Ralph resigned in June to take an ECHL job as coach of the Idaho Steelheads.
The RiverHawks return to the ice for the first time since getting upset by No. 8 seed Huntsville in the first round of the playoffs. Team captain Matt Auffrey (22 goals, 41 assists last season) returns to Augusta, which also welcomes forward Dennis Sicard.
In August, the team traded defenseman Ed Snetsinger to the Huntsville Havoc for Sicard, who scored 34 points in 40 games for the Havoc.
Another player to keep an eye on in training camp is forward Drew Slaton, who received an invitation after impressing in the RiverHawks’ prospect camp. The 21-year-old from Martinez played with four teams in the North American Hockey League the past two seasons.
“He’s a very fast skater. He’s very skilled. He’s a good kid,” Miller said. “He’ll definitely be working hard in training camp. I look forward to seeing what he can do.”
The Riverhawks open the season Oct. 26 at Mississippi. Augusta begins its home slate Friday, Nov. 2, against Fayetteville. The following night, the RiverHawks play host to Knoxville at James Brown Arena.