The nerves were evident from the players skating onto the ice for the first day of Odessa Jackalopes training camp Wednesday morning at MCM Ice.
Matt Cressman, however, was ready to go. So when the clock hit 10:30 a.m., the whistle blew in a new era with Cressman as head coach.
Taking over after Paul Gillis’ contract was not renewed after six seasons, Cressman led the prospective Jackalopes through 90 minutes of high-energy drills, ending the session with a 10-minute scrimmage.
He then proclaimed that he was happy with how things had gotten started.
“I thought it was good,” Cressman said. “Obviously (assistant coach/scout Craig Sarner) has built this team on speed and we had a lot of kids out there that can skate pretty good.
“To play good hockey now, you have to get from A to B pretty quick and there are lots of kids who can skate. But you could tell quite a few kids were pretty nervous out there, gripping the stick pretty tight, but that’s to be expected.”
One of the 28 players invited back from the Jackalopes’ main camp in Detroit in July was Odessa native Jakob Nunez.
Nunez, who has been competing in the junior ranks for the past decade, impressed both Cressman and Sarner during his time in Michigan and had a good start Wednesday.
But the Odessa High senior, who has pushed football to the sideline in order to take advantage of this chance on ice, knows he is going to have to have better days in the next week in order to make the season-opening roster.
“I felt like I controlled the puck, better than I thought I would,” Nunez said. “I need to work harder to get in shape. This was a faster pace than I’m used to skating.
“I was just trying to have fun out there, play my game and try to put some goals in the net. No one said anything to me before hand, so I just went out and worked as hard as I could.”
Nunez is the feel-good story of the camp, but Cressman or Sarner aren’t going to put him on the final roster simply because he’s a hometown product.
After last season’s 6-51-3 record in the North American Hockey League, the goal is to build a team that is capable of getting up and down the ice and competing on a nightly basis.
Both coaches know they are putting Nunez into uncharted waters as far as hockey is concerned and they want to see how he’s going to respond.
“You can’t just throw a kid out there up to here and expect him to survive without help,” Sarner said, putting his hand midway up his face. “Nunez has skill, but he’s going to be tested out there.”
Cressman added: “He worked hard and you could see he was a little tired at the end. But if you never completely empty the tank, you don’t know how to get better and that’s one of the things Jakob has to learn.”
Not just Nunez, but everyone on the ice, including the four players — Cody Slocumb, Chris Taff, Chad Guderian and Trace Jablin — who spent time with the team last season as affiliate players.
The team will go through eight days of workouts before heading to North Richland Hills for a pair of scrimmages against the Lone Star Brahmas.
Then, after a few more days of practice in West Texas, the team loads up the bus to head toward the annual NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn. Along the way, the Jackalopes will play a pair of games in Wichita Falls and another in Topeka, Kan., to get the season started.
“It would be nice to get to the Showcase and know a lineup and which goaltenders can stop the puck,” Cressman said. “The last couple years, we went up there not knowing much about the team.
“I liked the way we skated (Wednesday), and when they relax, it should get better.”