With 12 defencemen remaining in the Kootenay Ice camp the composition of the blue-line brigade is largely in the air as the team heads to Kennewick, Wash., for three games in three days.
For a pair of 17-year-olds seeing their first extended stays with the club, the opportunity has never been better to make an impression.
Dallas Hines, a native of Marwayne, Alta., and Jason Wenzel, a Calgary kid, are two of the remaining 12 seeking out permanency in Cranbrook.
Though two of the younger charges remaining on the defensive end of the equation, both have acquitted themselves well while doing so in different ways.
“They’re both such different players and I thought they complimented each other well at times [Tuesday] night,” said Luke Pierce, Kootenay Ice head coach, Wednesday afternoon. “Jason is a lot more active of a guy. He can make some mistakes, but he can also make some great plays and reads. He’s aggressive.
“Dallas is more of a cerebral player. He picks his spots and keeps the game pretty simple, which is a good quality to have.
“For both those guys, again — just consistency in their game as we go through this real busy stretch. Both of them, with their size and their reach, have a real good opportunity.”
Hines, standing 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 207 pounds, spent the 2014-15 campaign with the Lloydminster Midget ‘AAA’ Bobcats where he put up 20 points in 32 appearances.
Though soft spoken off the ice, Hines — a fifth-round pick (97th overall) at the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft — plays a much louder game on the ice with little hesitation in the department of physicality.
“It’s a way faster pace and everything is going quicker,” Hines said. “The league is just so much better than where I came from, so it’s a big step up.
“You’ve got to work hard every practice, every game. You’ve got to come to the rink focused. Don’t take any days off.”
Standing at 6-feet and tipping the scales at 164 pounds, Wenzel is the slighter of the two, but uses his mobility to his advantage in playing an active role on the blue-line.
With that said, it doesn’t mean he’s adverse to playing a physical style.
“This is my third year in camp and it’s always been a goal of mine to play in the WHL for as long as I can remember,” Wenzel said Wednesday.
“I’m just playing my game, which is a hard-hitting more aggressive game. I feel like that’s what will earn me a spot here, so that’s what I’ve been sticking to.”
The two have their work cut out amongst a veteran group of defencemen with WHL experience, which includes Bryan Allbee, Tanner Faith, Cale Fleury, Mario Grman, an injured Tyler King, Tanner Lishchynsky, Nathyn Mortlock, Troy Murray and Dylan Overdyk.
Add in an 18-year-old with junior experience — Mark O’Shaughnessy spent 2014-15 with the Junior B Kamloops Storm — and there is no shortage of candidates.
Even with what might be perceived as an uphill climb, both Hines and Wenzel are taking each day in stride as they gather in as much as they can from their more experienced colleagues and competition, both on and off the ice.
“I’ve had fun here and I’ve learned a lot from the older guys,” Wenzel said. “It’s good to have someone to look up to. It’s nice to still be here.
“Responsibility — you have to be on top of all your schooling. On-ice stuff — the pace picks up, so fast thinking and puck moving [is important].”
With three games in quick succession this weekend, Hines and Wenzel will more than likely see opportunity to show their stuff once again.
The Ice face the Tri-City Americans Thursday night at 8:05 p.m. (MST) before taking on the Seattle Thunderbirds Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. (MST).
The weekend wraps up with a midday matinee Saturday at 12 p.m. (MST) against the Prince George Cougars.
“It should be a fun experience. It’s going to be the first time in the States for me,” Wenzel said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Wenzel has some acquaintances on both the Americans and Thunderbirds rosters, so he’s particularly excited to hit the ice this weekend.
Growing up, the Calgary native played alongside Parker AuCoin of the Tri-City Americans and Brandon Schuldaus of the Seattle Thunderbirds. Wenzel said he hopes to get under the skin of AuCoin and “rattle his cage” when the two face off Thursday night.
Following weekend action in Kennewick, the Ice return home before venturing to Crowsnest Pass, Alta., to wrap up the exhibition season with a pair of games next weekend.