Desperate times call for desperate measures and right now, Kootenay Ice head coach Luke Pierce is desperate for healthy bodies.
In an effort to address that issue, the Ice have recalled 15-year-old forward Eli Lieffers from the Saskatoon Contacts of the Saskatchewan Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League.
Pierce confirmed the roster move prior to practice at Western Financial Place Thursday afternoon.
“You’ve got to be realistic — it’s a big jump and a big step,” Pierce said. “But we need some bodies right now and with the development model and where we’re at in the long-term process, I think it will be good for [Lieffers] to get some exposure to it.
“We’ll protect him as much as we can in terms of keeping him in situations that are hopefully going to be situations he can have success in.”
With five regular skaters out due to injury and and defenceman Troy Murray set to serve the final game of a two-game suspension, Lieffers will make his Western Hockey League debut Friday night when the Moose Jaw Warriors visit Cranbrook.
The 6-foot-2, 155-pound Lieffers — a fourth-round pick (78th overall) of the Ice at the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft — played one exhibition game with the club prior to being assigned to the Contacts earlier this fall.
In 16 games with the Contacts since then, Lieffers has posted two goals and three points alongside 12 penalty minutes.
“He’s a smart player. Obviously he’s got some size,” Pierce said. “He processes the game really quick. For him, it’s got to be kept real simple. Sometimes playing midget, he might be controlling the game a little more. Here, that’s not going to be the expectation for him. He just have to be smart, be effective, be real simple, which isn’t a lot different than what we’re asking from a lot of our players at this point.”
Lieffers was not in Cranbrook in time to practice with the Ice Thursday afternoon, but will arrive in time to suit up Friday.
“It’s always tough for someone coming up from midget,” said captain Luke Philp. “He’s going to have nerves and stuff like that. But he’s got to play to his strengths and not try to be anything he’s not. He should be fine.”
When the lanky native of Saskatoon makes his debut, he will sport sweater No. 26 and have the full support of his teammates as he tries to make the quick transition from Midget ‘AAA’ to the WHL.
“You’re nervous your first game,” said Matt Alfaro, looking forward to welcoming Lieffers. “It doesn’t really set in until probably game two or three.
“Make him feel comfortable, be nice in the dressing room. If they have any questions, act nice enough so they can come up and ask you and not be afraid.
“Help him out during practices, let him know the strategy a bit. Just make him feel as comfortable as possible.”
In addition to the absence of Murray, the Ice are set to go without defencemen Tyler King (knee, indefinite) and Jason Wenzel (headaches, day-to-day) as well as forwards Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder, four to six months), Zak Zborosky (lower body, week-to-week) and River Beattie (concussion).
Puck drop between the Ice and Warriors is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place.