Caleb Jones is coming off a summer where he won a gold medal playing for Team USA in the Under 20 World Junior Championships.
Ethan Bear finished his junior career in May by winning the Western Hockey League championship with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
The two 20 year-olds are among four rookies who will be vying for ice time this season with the Condors. The others are Ryan Mantha, 21, and Ziyat Paigin, 22. Paigin is not considered a true rookie as he has played in pro Russian leagues the past three seasons, but he is a rookie to North American hockey.
“We do have a lot of young guys this year, especially on the back end,” Jones said Tuesday following practice. “I think there’s four of us coming in. It’s all a new experience to us. Obviously, Ethan’s a good friend of mine so it’s nice to experience something with him, to go through the same things.
“You’re not alone in it, you’re not the only rookie so it’s nice to have that to fall back on.”
Paigin played five games with Condors late last season and Condors coach Gerry Fleming and the rest of his staff have been working with all of them since the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C. in early September.
“The organization felt there was a need to develop and bring up some young guys so they drafted a lot of young defensemen over the last two or three years,” Fleming said of the large number of young D-men. “You’re starting to see those guys now finish their college careers, finish their junior careers and so we are going to have a young corps of D but we feel pretty confident with them back there.”
Jones led the Portland Winterhawks in scoring last season with 62 points (nine goals, 53 assists) in 63 games and is looking forward to his first professional season.
“I had my thoughts I’d probably be down here to start my pro career so I’m just really excited to get going,” he said. “I was here a couple of years ago, too. When I was 18 I got to play a couple of games and that was fun so I’ve experienced what it’s like to play here.”
Bear, who led Thunderbirds defensemen with 70 points (28 goals, 42 assists) in 67 games, said he ramped things up heading into his first pro season.
“I think I took it a little bit more serious,” he said. “Paying attention to just the way I played a little bit more, taking care of myself a little bit more off the ice. Just tried to take care of my body as best I can and be ready to play.”
With just one goaltender in camp (rookie Shane Starrett), the Condors reached out to Scott Hay, a former minor-league (and Condors) goaltender who is director of the Bakersfield Ice Sports Center where the Condors are practice.
Hay, who last played professionally in 2006, donned the pads and has been taking shots since training camp opened. He has filled in several times over the years when the Condors have needed a goalie to help out during a practice.
“I’m loving it, it’s fun, even if I am old and slow,” Hay, 42 said.
Four more players will soon be headed to Bakersfield. Winger Patrick Russell and goaltender Nick Ellis have been assigned to the team by the Edmonton Oilers and the Oilers placed forward Ty Rattie and defenseman Dillon Simpson on waivers for the purpose of assignment to the Condors. The Oilers have 18 active forwards and nine active defensemen still in camp.