While most kids will soon be heading back to class in school, others will be getting an education out on the ice, with none other than the Kootenay Ice.
Training camp officially starts at Western Financial Place on Wednesday but the veterans will lace up the skates for their first practice of the new season on Monday, followed by fitness testing with the prospects on Tuesday.
It should be an interesting year for the club, which will be facing a number of challenges right from the beginning of the season.
The first order of business will be introducing the returning players to the new coaching staff as head coach Ryan McGill and his assistant, Chad Kletzel, will want to get a look at their players.
Count on McGill to keep general manager Jeff Chynoweth and assistant coach Jerry Bancks close when solving some of the roster problems, which includes dealing with five 20-year-olds and taking a hard look at the younger talent at camp.
Chynoweth has made no secret of the fact that the team will be young this year, and has said in the past that he thinks there could be as many as eight or nine 1996-born players on the roster.
The 20-year-old question has been whittled down to five candidates: Joey Leach, Brock Montgomery, Drew Czerwonka, Elgin Pearce and Dylen McKinlay.
Max Reinhart is eligible for his final year, but will likely stick with the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL, however it remains to be seen if an NHL lockout would affect his situation there.
Defenseman Johnny Neibrandt was dealt to the Vancouver Giants in the off-season and Luke Paulsen, with his concussion history, won’t return to the WHL for his final season.
That leaves forward Erik Benoit and defensemen Jagger Dirk and Tanner Muth as the 1993-born players and Levi Cable, Mike Simpson, Mackenzie Skapski, Jeff Hubic and Jordyn Boyd-acquired at the WHL Bantam Draft from Everett-as the 1994-born players.
Also throw into the 1994-born mix Petr Vesely and Jakub Prochazka, the two Czech forwards that Chynoweth selected in the CHL Import Draft.
Don’t forget about the four 1995-born players in Sam Reinhart, Jaedon Descheneau, Spencer Wand and Jon Martin, who will look to take on bigger roles in their second year.
Reinhart has already gotten some quality ice time in the Czech Republic at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where he captained Team Canada to a gold medal finish last week.
A few players hoping to make a bigger impact this year are Tanner Faith, Luke Philp and Jesse Wood-Schatz, who all logged some time with the club last year as call-ups.
Faith and Wood-Schatz returned to their Midget teams while Philp played a year with the Canmore Eagles of the AJHL in Alberta.
The club will also be looking for a backup to goaltender Mackenzie Skapski, who is looking to take over the reigns from his predecessor, Nathan Lieuwen.
McGill has coached for 16 years and played 10 more in junior and professional hockey so this definitely isn’t his first rodeo, however, it’ll be interesting to see what he does.
One could say McGill is a part of the franchise’s foundation in the Kootenays, leading the team to two WHL championships and a Memorial Cup. Returning to his former WHL team with a young roster gives him a chance build a squad over the next few years capable of replicating his earlier success.
ICE NOTES: Jeff Chynoweth’s son, Ryan, is off to the Everett to begin his second year with the Silvertips. Joining Chynoweth is Cranbrook product Ben Betker, who was dealt to the ‘Tips in a trade with the Portland Winterhawks, who held his rights. Betker, a defenseman, spent last season in the BCHL with the Westside Warriors. Kimberley native Tristan Pagura will skate in the Kelowna Rockets’ training camp after being selected in the ninth round of the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft. Payton Lee, a Cranbrook born goaltender, is also in competition for a backup role with the Vancouver Giants. Apologies if I’ve missed any other local hockey players off to WHL training camps.