Betker returns to WHL after Oilers camp

Cranbrook-born defenceman gets a taste of life in professional hockey during an NHL training camp in Edmonton.

Local defenceman Ben Betker has returned to the Everett Silvertips after attending training camp with the Edmonton Oilers.

Local defenceman Ben Betker has returned to the Everett Silvertips after attending training camp with the Edmonton Oilers.

Ben Betker will have to get used to two new coaches.

The Cranbrook-born defenceman was recently reassigned after attending a prospects camp with the Edmonton Oilers. He returns back to his home WHL club, the Everett Silvertips, where he will be a key part of the team this year while patrolling the blue line.

The Oilers and the ‘Tips feature new bench bosses, with Dallas Eakins in Edmonton and Kevin Constantine in Everett, and Betker is eager to make his mark on both.

After Betker was selected in the sixth round of the NHL Draft in June, he attended a rookie development camp a week afterwards, which was his first introduction to the NHL and life as a professional hockey player.

Betker suited up for two games in the Young Stars prospects tournament in Penticton a few weeks ago, before headed back to Edmonton for training camp.

Betker said he felt comfortable at the tournament, considering it featured mostly prospects like himself struggling to make an impression.

“It was really interesting to compare myself to guys such as Justin Shultz or Taylor Hall and to learn from Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson,” Betker said.

He added that the play was a little disjointed because players were only given a few days to learn and adapt to new systems.

“…The play was fast, but quite scrambly at times, especially in the defensive zones. Guys were stronger, for sure, than say in a normal game in the Western League. Guys were stronger and faster and heavier shots, but the type of play wasn’t so systematic.”

Betker suited up for a game against the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks, along with a Monday night clash against the University of Alberta Golden Bears, back in Edmonton.

Betker was familiar with the Oilers hockey operations staff, having met GM Craig MacTavish before, however, he hadn’t met Eakins until fitness testing.

“The only guy I hadn’t met was Dallas, and when we were doing the VO2 test, just before we left, he was actually behind me, I had no idea,” said Betker.

“He was behind me, watching me on the bike and it was a good thing I tried to go as long as I could, but he said he saw quite a bit of fight in me, which is good, because that sort of eases the pressure, when you have guys like him and MacTavish already sort of on your side, to a degree.”

Eakins has made it very clear that fitness will be a key priority with the team, punctuating his point by replacing doughnuts and pastries with fruits and veggies for the media at team press conferences.

“He’s very intense,” Betker said. “He demands that you’re in shape. He likes his fitness, and he likes his guys to be in shape. That’s one of the things he was preaching, is that they will be the most in-shape team in the NHL.

“The on-ice testing that we did was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Betker had exit meetings with Rick Carriere, Edmonton’s head of player development, who gave him some stuff to work on for another year of development in the WHL.

He wants to improve his skating and footwork, his shot, and be a tough player to play against, but consistency is the most important thing.

“I think consistency is one of the biggest things they look for at the pros, especially in the NHL,” Betker said. “That’s why guys like Joe Thorton and Ryan Smyth are so good, is because they’re consistently at their best every night.”

He was released back to Everett on Sunday, where he will work with a new, but familiar face in the coaching ranks, as head coach Kevin Constantine is back for his second tenure.

Constantine coached the ‘Tips for four years from 2003-2007, leading the team to the WHL finals in their first year as a league expansion team. He also has NHL experience coaching with the San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils.

While Betker was experiencing life in the pros, the Silvertips went on a tear in the preseason, going undefeated in seven games.

“I think with the guys going 7-0, I’m just worried about getting back into the lineup and earning my spot back,” Betker laughed. “They’re 7-0 , the last thing I want to do is go in there and disrupt things, but I’m just really excited to start playing games again.”

With Constantine at the helm, Betker is confident the Silvertips can return to their previous glory, which included three U.S. Division titles and an appearance in the league championship under his first tenure.

“He’s just as intense, if not more, than Dallas,” Betker said. “He demands hard work and he’s a very demanding coach. It’ll be very good for our team, because we are still young, we have a lot of first-year returning guys, but we picked up a few more rookies this year and a few 16-year-old defencemen, but he’ll be really good for our squad, knowing what it takes to win.”

The Silvertips will come up to Cranbrook this year, and Betker will get to play in front of a hometown crowd on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at Western Financial Place.

“It’s marked on my calendar. I’m looking forward to that day,” he said. “I’m excited to play back in that rink. It’s been a while.”

NOTES: Betker attended Oilers camp with Silvertips teammates Reid Petryk and Jujhar Khaira. He also played with former Ice captain Joey Leach at the Young Stars tournament, as Leach signed a one-year contract with Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons, in the off-season.