The Kootenay Ice have wrapped up training camp and pared their roster down to 29 players as the WHL heads into preseason action.
Roughly 60 skaters, who were bantam draft selections or listed players with the club, attended camp over the last five days to showcase their skills in practices and intrasquad games.
Camp concluded on Sunday with the annual Blue-White charity game, which showcased some of the leading prospects and raised $1,700 for the United Way.
“It was positive,” said Ice head coach Ryan McGill, of his camp experience. “I’m really excited about the future of this team with our young guys. I thought our really young guys—the ’97 and ’96 age group—have lots of skill and that bodes well for the future.”
Prospects who stuck with the club include defensemen Kyle Krabben; Tanner Faith; Jordan Steenbergen and Matthew Thomas. Forwards who will get a taste of exhibition are Luke Philp; Kurt Johnas; Kyle O’Connor; Douglas Morris and Collin Shirley. Wyatt Hoflin was the lone goaltender to stay, who will get some playing time in alongside veteran Mackenzie Skapski.
Preseason is fast approaching with a tournament hosted by the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, WA, this weekend. The Ice will get their first exhibition game in on Thursday, Sept. 6, against the host club, which will be followed by contests with Portland on Friday and Everett on Saturday.
“The biggest thing, for sure, is making sure the guys we need to see play two out of three games, while some of them will play all three,” said McGill.
“Now it’s different. Now it’s against other teams instead of your friends and peer groups so the intensity will be that much more and we’ll be able to see a lot more as far as character goes so it’ll be a good evaluation.”
Ice general manager Jeff Chynoweth and his staff are also tasked with the difficult process of evaluating five 20-year-olds for three open spots by the October 16, 2012, deadline.
Over the course of the camp, players were broken up into three teams of Blue, Black and White and each played each other twice.
The veterans were noticeable out on the ice with the visors on their helmets, while most of the prospects played with the full cage required in Bantam and Midget hockey.
However, despite age differences, the players let their skills do the talking.
Douglas Morris, a listed player with the club, found himself on a line with Ice veteran Jaedon Descheneau and Collin Shirley, the club’s first round draft pick in 2011, during one game as they steamrolled over the opposition.
Morris and Descheneau go back to their bantam years, as they lined together while playing for the Leduc Oil Kings, according to Ice head scout Garnet Kazuik.
That chemistry was apparent when the former linemates stepped out onto the ice together as they—along with Shirley—were all over the scrimmage scoresheet.
“He scores,” Kazuik said, of Morris’ abilities. “That’s the bottom line. He’s an offensive guy, he scores a lot and you can’t teach that.
“We’ve had him on our list for quite a long time now.”
Chynoweth personally closed the deal on listing Morris a few years ago when he saw him playing in the same league as his son, Ryan, during his Midget AAA year in Alberta and brought his name up with Kazuik, who was already aware of the young player’s talent.
Morris, Descheneau and Shirley were so effective together in the intrasquad game that Kazuik said he eventually had to break them up because they were so dominant.
“Those two have been together for a long time so when they matched up on the line in that one intrasquad game, I had to get down there and stop it,” said Kazuik “But it was good to see that reconnection with them playing [together].”
Matt Thomas came into camp on an invite as an unlisted and undrafted player who spent his season last year playing Midget AAA with the Calgary Royals.
“We have a small camp for a reason,” said Kazuik. “When we invite kids, they’re there for a reason—to make the hockey club or make an impact because they’re pretty much hand-selected from the scouting staff.”
The two Czechs in Petr Vesely and Jakub Prochazka, both selected in the CHL Import Draft last June, managed to catch McGill’s attention, despite a bit of a language barrier as the two cope with learning English.
“There is a language barrier, but once they got on the ice, I thought they both were really, really good at understanding what they needed to do not only in games but also in practices,” said McGill. “I think the biggest adjustment for them now will be off the ice on a daily basis where they’ve got to learn the language and they’ve tried really hard to do that and I think they’re fitting in well with their teammates.”
Kazuik, who is based out of Calgary, will remain with the club during exhibition and a few regular season games to help the coaches finalize the roster, before heading back to Alberta to resume his scouting duties.