There has been no shortage of excitement surrounding the Kootenay Ice this off-season and last week the team’s staff finally got an opportunity to get down and talk about hockey.
During a few beautiful sunny days at the St. Eugene Golf Resort, the Ice held their first hockey operations planning meetings. It was the first and last time before the fall that the entire staff will be together to discuss their upcoming goals.
President and general manager Matt Cockell, head coach James Patrick, associate coach Jon Klemm, assistant coach Gordon Burnett, manager of hockey operations and player experience Jake Heisinger, goaltending consultant Denis Sproxton and mental skills coach Doug Swanson were all in attendance to discuss just about every subject under the sun.
“[We] talked about systems, talked about our roles as coaches, talked about teaching and the methods were going to use, so it [was] a real fun time,” said Patrick, who is taking over as bench boss after 11 years as an assistant coach in the NHL. “When you get hockey guys in the same room, there’s always a lot of stories. So it’s a [very] good start.”
According to Patrick, the 2017-18 season will be a ‘fresh start’ for the organization and the hope is that the Ice will develop into one of the WHL’s premiere destinations.
“When we talk about our team, we want to talk about [being] progressive [and] we want to talk about [the] pro experience,” Patrick said. “We want to be progressive as an organization, as far as our front office staff and coaching staff, using every tool we can to develop players to win.
“With the background of Matt coming from the Winnipeg Jets organization, me coming from [the] Dallas [Stars] … we want to make this the best possible player experience.”
Patrick said that while the facilities will be changing, the goal is to become a pro quality team from top to bottom.
“We want to run it like NHL teams do so that’s why we’re talking about the pro experience,” he said. “That’s kind of our [vision for the] organization as far as the culture the team.
“We’ve talked a lot about teaching young players how to become good pros, how to behave on and off the ice, how we want to compete on the ice, how we want to play for the team first [and] trying to develop a selfless attitude.”
Cockell also stressed the team’s culture as being crucial and is thrilled with the staff in place’s ability to deliver on their promise.
“We feel like we’ve assembled a group that’s second to none,” Cockell said. “We’ve got a lot of experience, I think close to 44 or 45 years of playing experience in that room from an NHL standpoint.
“When you start with player experience in mind, that means it’s also part of fan experience, because the players love being part of a great atmosphere. We want to provide that and so we really feel that with everything we do, every decision we make, if we start there it really encompasses everything we’re trying to do.”
Patrick added that the location of the Ice franchise will work particularly well for their vision.
“This East Kootenay region is a gorgeous area, it’s unique. There aren’t a lot of Western Hockey League teams that have the beauty that we have here,” he said. “It’s a great place for players to come and live in a small community, live close to their teammates, bond with their teammates and grow as hockey players, learn and develop.”
As for specific outcomes for the 2017-18 season, Patrick is holding off on making any predictions for now.
“I don’t like to set goals, I know Matt really doesn’t [either], but I have an idea of how I expect us to play and how I want us to play,” he explained. “I’ve heard some different reports from different scouts on their feeling of our talent level, and we’ll learn more as camp moves forward.
“We have high expectations moving forward, I’ll put it that way.”
In addition to the time spent in the boardroom and St. Eugene, the hockey operations group also took some time to go whitewater rafting and bond as a group.
The club is now seven weeks away from training camp and hope to keep generating excitement for the upcoming season up to the moment the puck drops on September 22 at Western Financial Place.