Playing both sides of the bench

Returning veteran Jeff Hubic has been skating as a forward and a defenceman.

Whether it’s forward or defence, Jeff Hubic just wants to play.

Fresh off his rookie year, the 18-year-old Regina, Sask. native started last season on defence, but moved up front to cover for some injuries and provide an energy presence.

Yet he is almost in limbo as a new coaching staff manages a group of young prospects vying for a spot on the roster, which could be open or not depending on where the young player ends up in the lineup.

“In minor hockey, I played both forward and defence,” said Hubic. “This year, it’s a bit tougher to go back and forth like that, but it’s an adjustment that I’ve had to make and I’m just happy to contribute in any way possible.”

If Hubic is removed from the defensive line, that leaves five returning veterans and three prospects in Matt Thomas, Kyle Krabben and Tanner Faith. The forward ranks are already swollen with nine returnees, two Czech imports and three prospects.

Ice head coach Ryan McGill had been moving Hubic between the front and the back over the preseason to see where he fits best.

“Most of my hockey career has been on defense, obviously it’s where I have the most comfort, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy playing forward,” Hubic said. “Forward gives me lots of opportunity to play with a lot of energy, because I think I am an energy player.

“It doesn’t take away that physical aspect of the game, because you’ve got lots of opportunities all over the ice, no matter where you’re playing.”

Matt Thomas, an undrafted player who came to camp on an invitation, made it through the cull after training camp and survived a second round of cuts last weekend.

“So far, it’s been amazing,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t expecting any of it, to be honest, I was expecting to go back and play Midget this year, so right now, I’m just trying to enjoy myself and work as hard as I can to try and make the team.”

Thomas, 17, played with the Calgary Royals Midget AAA team last year and appeared in 34 games in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.

Also pushing hard for a spot is Krabben, who played in the same city and in the same league as Thomas with the Calgary Buffaloes, posting four goals and eight assists in 33 games.

Krabben suited up for three preseason games with the Ice, notching a goal during a preseason game against the Everett Silvertips in the Tri-City Americans tournament a week ago.

“It’s been an experience that I’ll never forget,” said Krabben. “Even going through just the training camp, you learn so much, whatever age you are.

“Just playing with the vets a lot and even going through exhibition, you realize the speed and what you need to do to play at this level.”

He knows he needs to step up his game to impress McGill, but transitioning from Midget to the WHL has been an eye-opening experience for the young defensemen, as opponents have become bigger, faster and stronger.

However, Kootenay’s veteran defense has been a resource for the young prospects, either through conversation or by simply being an example of how to play on the ice.

“You learn so much by just watching them,” said Krabben. “Talking to them and whatnot, they teach you, but just watching them out on the ice, you want to be at that level, you want to play with them.

“They’re all super strong D and never quite make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, but they cut down their mistakes so much, that that’s the level that we, as rookies, really need to get to.”

Hubic joked that he’d play in goal if it was asked of him, but he knows McGill and his assistants are still figuring out the roster, which hopefully includes a spot for him somewhere.

“They got a lot on their plate, but I’m sure in the next couple weeks, once we get the season rolling and stuff, I’m sure I’ll find out, but anything’s possible right now,” he said.

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