WATERTOWN — In the later stages of the Watertown Wolves’ final practice of training camp Thursday, the team turned toward working on penalty shots.
Fred Hein, a veteran forward acquired by the team in the offseason, was first up and successful on the attempt, as he glided in and tucked a backhander past the goalie during the afternoon session.
The Wolves are hoping Hein will generate more of these kind of moments if there indeed is a hockey season in the new year.
“It’s been great,” Hein said of training camp. “It feels really good to get out there for some serious time, it keep getting pushed back, so it’s nice to have an official start to something.”
Hein is one of 22 Watertown players who wrapped up the team’s training camp Friday at Watertown Municipal Arena.
Hein has five years of pro hockey experience under his belt, including the past two in the Federal Prospects Hockey League. He was acquired by the Wolves in a trade with Danville in May as longtime Watertown defenseman Kyle Powell was dealt to the Dashers.
“He’s a person I envisioned that I wanted to get, I wanted to get him last year,” Wolves coach Brent Clarke said. “He became available, so we pulled the trigger and made the trade and fortunately it was a good player for a good player.”
Hein has displayed a blend of a scoring touch along with a physical presence on the ice, building the reputation as one of the top scorers and playmakers in the league, as well as showing toughness,
“I see myself as more of a skill player, I use my speed and shot and skill,” Hein said. “I don’t shy away from the physical game and if it’s necessary, I don’t mind. But I like the speed and skill part of the game.”
Hein finished as one of the league’s top offensive players after generating 56 points, including 29 goals, in 45 games last season with the Danville Dashers in a campaign shortened because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It went really well,” Hein said of last season. “I got named offensive MVP of the whole league and that was an honor. I didn’t expect that really because there are some good players in the league. It was nice to be honored like that.”
His 2019-20 production followed a 28-goal season in which he totaled 55 points in 40 games, also with Danville in 2018-19.
“With my shot, I pride myself in that area of the game,” Hein said.
He has also averaged 77 penalty minutes over the past two seasons with the Dashers in which he played in 85 games.
“He brings leadership and obviously he’s a tough player to play against, he’s always got that touch around the net,” Clarke said.
Previously, Hein spent three seasons playing pro hockey in Sweden after playing at the Division III college level at both the University of New England and Becker College, in Maine and his native Massachusetts, respectively.
Also last season, Hein was called up by Evansville of the Southern Professional Hockey League, appearing in two games.
“I’m from just outside Boston, so I’m close to home, so this works out for me,” he said.
Hein has never played for Clarke before, but his reputation as a successful coach has clearly preceded Clarke in his return to Watertown.
“He’s passionate and very competitive,” Hein said of Clarke. “And I knew that prior to meeting him and when I knew that Watertown was an opportunity and he was the coach, I knew I was putting myself in a successful situation. I knew he’s going to put the absolute best product on the ice, find the best players, make them work, make them fit. And I knew I wanted to be part of something like that and being around him every day is awesome to see. ... We have the same goals.”
Hein is also pleased with the way the Wolves’ players have been treated so far by the organization.
“We’ve got some special players and the organization has taken care of us and given us everything we need to succeed and that’s really important,” Hein said. “This being my sixth year, I’ve never been treated the way I have here. It’s been special and it makes you want to just give everything you’ve got every single day.
“There’s a lot of people behind us that are giving everything that they have to make us comfortable, so we can give the best product on the ice.”
The Watertown franchise was purchased in the spring by entrepreneur and real estate businessman Andreas Johansson.
“First class right away, the second I signed here, he reached out and I’ve never had that happen before,” Hein said of Johansson. “He reached out, just to make sure I was being taken care of and comfortable and coming from a new team, he just made the transition really easy for me.”
Hein and his teammates will play the waiting game as the FPHL is tentatively scheduled to open the season Jan. 15.
The Wolves played three intrasquad scrimmages this week, dubbed “Blue and Gray” games, including one on Friday morning before the team officially broke camp.
“The atmosphere was cool, they set it up like a real game the first couple days, we had some refs, a legit warmup and the music was going for warmups,” Hein said. “They shut the lights off when we came out, so it was a cool atmosphere, it had that game-type feeling where it was like something serious.
“It was good, the pace was good. For the amount of guys we had, we kept a pretty good pace for a while.”
“They’ve gone very well,” Clarke said of the scrimmages. “We’ve worked on some defensive things so we can get the systems down and that way when we come back, we won’t have too much to get into, we’ll just have to touch on what we’ve been doing so far. Hopefully they haven’t forgotten anything in four weeks.”
If and when there is a regular season, Watertown will enter the season with a 25-man roster.
“I hope so, I’ll cross my fingers that we do all the right things, follow the right rules and get going here,” Hein said. “But I’m glad because it shows how serious our organization is taking it by starting a little earlier. We have about 20 guys here, so come January when we step on the ice, we already know our systems, so we’re going to be two to three weeks ahead of every other team. So we’re not going to waste any time, the second start back up here in January, we’ll be flying, we’ll know all our systems, we’ll know the guys, we’ll know our culture here.”
Clarke added: “We’re optimistic everything’s going to go well. I mean every day you hear something better and better about the vaccines, so hopefully it comes out and in the new year we’re back at it and we’ll be able to play.”