There’s no shortage of former goaltenders in the Kootenay Ice front office.
With former WHL goaltender and Brandon Wheat Kings goalie coach Matt Cockell at the helm of the franchise, as president and general manager, and co-owner Greg Fettes also having tended goal as a young man, it’s a position that will undoubtedly get a lot of attention.
So when the Ice hired a goaltending consultant in early June, there was no doubt that it was someone with considerable chops.
Denis Sproxton was their man and he comes with an impressive resume.
He spent four years in the WHL from 1987 to 1991, playing for the Prince Albert Raiders and the Swift Current Broncos. After NHL tryouts with the Philadelphia Flyers and the San Jose Sharks, he took over the crease at Acadia University and won a national CIS championship in 1993.
Bouncing around the ECHL, Sproxton eventually settled into being a premier goaltending coach, working with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs from 2003 to 2011. He was also a part of the Canadian national women’s team that won gold at the 2006 Torino Olympics.
It was through his involvement with Hockey Canada that he first met Cockell, ten years ago.
“[Matt] happened to phone this summer and knew I was maybe available to get back into doing some goalie coaching and asked if that was something I was interested in,” Sproxton said. “I said, ‘Absolutely, for sure’ […] to have an opportunity with Matt and take this region to a new level [was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up].”
Last year, Sproxton worked as a part-time goaltending scout for the NHL expansion Vegas Golden Knights, travelling throughout Alberta and Western Canada providing the franchise with information.
While he hopes that job will also continue, he’s most excited about his new challenge with Kootenay.
“I’ll basically [be in Cranbrook for] about a week a month, five days, and try to hit more practices than games,” he said. “During that week, I’ll be focused on the goaltenders that are here and work everything, off the ice, on the ice, physically, mentally [to] improve them as people and improve their game.”
Sproxton is located primarily in Red Deer and plans to also catch the team when they’re in town, or in Calgary and Edmonton.
“My first priority is the players and hopefully making them better,” he said. “[I’ll] also be providing scouting and maybe pre-scouting games for the coaching staff as they come through Alberta.”
Although Sproxton is somewhat familiar with the Ice’s goaltenders, having watched them last season, he admits that he’ll have a steep learning curve heading into camp in August.
“[We’ll have to] get accustomed with each other, but that’s part of the process and working together and figuring out how to improve their game is all part of it,” he said. “They’re all good people and good kids [though], so I don’t think it’ll be an issue.”
Coming into the 2017-18 season, the Ice’s goaltending pool includes 20-year-old off-season acquisition Mario Petit, 18-year-old sophomore Jakob Walter, and several 16-year-old prospects including Jesse Makaj and Carter Woodside.
Sproxton plans to help whoever is in the mix equally, so they’ll be in the best position they can.
“As an 18-year-old or a 17-year-old or a 16-year-old, you want to be the guy in net,” he said. “A big part of my role is providing those steps to get to be the starter. Whether it’s through guidance, or on ice or off ice training or technical training, [we’ll] work together.
“[It’s about saying], ‘Hey, you’re going to be that guy, here’s what we need to do together to get you there’, and hopefully they’ll buy into that and then the competition works itself out.”
During training camp, Sproxton said that he will provide his thoughts and feelings, but that the ultimate decision will come down to Cockell and coach James Patrick’s discretion.
On a personal level, Sproxton is excited to spend time in the East Kootenay region and believes that the organization has a good chance to someday return him to the pinnacle of junior hockey that he achieved with the Chiefs in 2008.
“I worked with Spokane for ten years and I was always driving through Kootenay and the beautiful region we have here,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot of games over the years in this area, so it’s exciting for me to help this team grow [and] get to the playoffs and eventually, hopefully, win the Memorial Cup.”