The Kootenay Ice officially opened training camp Wednesday with two prospect games highlighting the next generation of talent hoping to make the jump to Cranbrook and the Western Hockey League.
“I was impressed,” said Ice assistant coach Jay Henderson following the Wednesday evening prospect game. “Obviously a lot of nerves [for the young guys] coming into today and I thought they performed very well.”
For the first time since being drafted by Kootenay with the 11th overall selection at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, defenceman Griffin Mendel stepped onto the ice at Western Financial Place.
Mendel, a Kelowna native, isn’t eligible to play as a 15-year-old this season. But he certainly left an impression on those who saw him Wednesday.
“He stuck out. He definitely got my attention,” Henderson said. “But there’s more than just him. There’s been a lot of guys that have played very well. That’s what these guys have got to do. They’ve got to stand out.”
Another defenceman who caught Henderson’s eye was Cale Fleury. The native of Carlyle, Sask. doesn’t turn 16 until November, but looked poised and calm in his own end. Whether it was breaking up three-on-one opportunities or establishing a smooth breakout, Fleury was steady. Fleury is the younger brother of 2014 Carolina Hurricanes first-round draft choice Haydn Fleury. The younger Fleury has already grabbed the attention of Hockey Canada brass as he attended U17 Development Camp in Calgary earlier this summer.
Fleury joined the Ice organization after he was selected by the team with the 78th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.
Up front, it was another pair of 2013 bantam draft selections that buzzed.
Former first-round pick Jared Legien was strong up and down the wings while Vince Loschiavo turned on the after-burners, showing great speed on zone entries as well as a nose for the net.
Legien was Kootenay’s first-round pick in 2013, going ninth overall. Loschiavo came 22 picks later when the Ice grabbed him with the 31st overall selection.
While impressive performances are great on day one, all of that changes today when the prospects and veterans get thrown into the blender together.
“It’s a much better pace and positionally, [the game] is probably more sound,” Henderson said. “It’s a good test for these guys. You obviously get the nerves out today and tomorrow you get thrown in with some of the bigger boys and we’ll see where they stand.”
Though the scores hold no weight in any standings, Team White edged Team Black in both prospect contests, taking the morning affair 5-3 before claiming a 5-2 win in the evening finale.
The 56 players in camp will be shuffled onto three teams with Team Blue facing Team White in the first game of the day at 11 a.m.
Once again, a goaltenders session will break up the games at 4:45 p.m. before Team Black hits the ice against Team Blue in the 6 p.m. tilt.
All training camp sessions are open to the public.