It’s crunch time in the WHL as prospects look to solidify their full-time spots as the regular season looms.
It’s no different for the Kootenay Ice, which has whittled down their roster and now carries 24 players—two goaltenders, eight defencemen and 14 forwards.
Of that total, 18 are returning veterans from last year.
Forwards Hudson Elynuik, Zach Zborosky and Matthew Alfaro, along with blueliners Troy Murray, Dylan Overdyk and Jordan Steenbergen are the remaining holdovers from camp hoping to stick around for their rookie dub seasons.
Throw in Russian D-man Rinat Valiev, who hasn’t arrived yet due to visa issues complicated via a strike from the Canadian foreign service workers strike, and competition for full-time spots gets a lot tighter.
Alfaro, 17, is in his third Ice camp and is pushing for a role up front. He’s made an impact on the scoresheet, scoring twice in four preseason games.
“This was my third WHL camp, so I was a little more experienced before coming in previous years,” said Alfaro, “and unlike last year, I had expectations on myself, put a little more pressure on myself to make this team, because I know I can.”
Alfaro comes to Kootenay from AAA Midget in Calgary, where he played with the Northstars, tallying 31 points in 33 games.
Though he’s chipped in offensively in the preseason, he still had to adjust to a few things.
“Speed,” Alfaro said. “When I got the puck back in Midget AAA, I could take the time to make the play, now I’m in the dub, I need to know before I get the puck.
“Less time and space. More physical, too.”
Alfaro scored in Kootenay’s 8-6 loss to the Everett Silvertips in the Tri-City tournament, and also lit the goal lamp in Coleman against the the Hitmen last Sunday.
The defensive corps is a little younger this year, which will be led by overager Jagger Dirk. Returnees include Tanner Faith, Matthew Thomas, Landon Peel and Clint Filbrandt, who is coming into his sophomore year after being acquired in an off-season trade from the Americans.
Jordan Steenbergen, at 17, is the elder of the remaining defensive prospects, as Dylan Overdyk and Troy Murray are both 16.
Overdyk was Kootenay’s second-round pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, behind Troy Murray, who went 10th overall in the opening round.
The blueliner played AAA Bantam hockey with the St. Albert Sabres in the AMBHL last year, scoring five goals and posting seven assists in 32 games.
This was his second time at training camp and his first real crack at making the team for his rookie season
“It’s really intense competition, definitely some of the highest I’ve seen before, so it was nice to be a part of it,” said Overdyk, on his training camp experience.
“…You’re mostly competing against guys who’ve played in this league before, so you definitely got to elevate your game. You got to change the way you play your game too, to an extent, but mostly, it’s remained the same.”