Goaltending prospect Jesse Makaj eyes spot in Kootenay Ice crease

16-year-old netminder excited to be a part of team’s future, hopeful to get chance in 2017-18

There isn’t a question in Jesse Makaj’s mind when it comes to his training camp ambitions.

“My goal is to make the team, for sure,” the 16-year-old goalie said. “I believe I can. I just have to show them what I’ve got and hopefully that’s good enough.”

Makaj was the Kootenay Ice’s second round selection at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. As the 23rd overall pick, the North Vancouver native was nearly a first-rounder and was the top B.C. netminder taken in the draft.

Playing for the Vancouver NW Giants of the BCMML last season, Makaj put up a 3.01 goals against average in 21 games and made considerable strides in his development. Now, in his first season of eligibilty for a roster spot, he thinks he has what it take.

“Last season was really good and during the off season I’ve really been working on covering [the net] quicker,” Makaj said. “[I’ve been trying to get] quicker feet since I’m a bigger guy. What I need [is] speed.

“If I can have size and speed, I think I can be successful, so that’s what I’ve been working on — getting explosive and faster.”

Speaking to the Townsman on Sunday morning after a couple of on-ice sessions and a scrimmage the night before, Makaj had a bright outlook on his early performance.

“I thought I played pretty good [on Saturday],” he said. “I got the nerves out first half and I thought my second half was really solid.”

During the intrasquad game, Makaj allowed 3 goals in one period of play which eventually ended as a 10-5 loss for his team. His counterpart Will Gurski, a 15-year-old, let in the remaining 7 goals in the second and final period.

During the camp, all four prospect goaltenders worked with new goalie consultant Denis Sproxton and Makaj said it’s been a great experience.

“He’s awesome. He has different drills that I’ve never done before,” he said. “That’s a good thing. Goalies are a bit weird, so we do different things, but he’s a great coach.

“We’ve been really focusing on our eyes and our hands, and moving with them and being square.”

Overall, the entire Ice organization has impressed Makaj in his second time at the Cranbrook training camp.

“I’m really happy with this change in [Kootenay] — great coaches, great general manager,” he said. “[James Patrick] was an NHL coach, so he knows what it takes to be successful and what it takes to compete.

“[Our prospects] are good [too]. There were good draft picks this year … it’s only been three days and I like what I see.”

In main camp, Makaj’s competition for a starting or backup slot with Kootenay will be 20-year-old Mario Petit, 18-year-old Jakob Walter and fellow 16-year-old Carter Woodside.

Petit joined the team from Everett over the off-season after a pair of seasons as a backup to WHL goalie of the year, Carter Hart. Walter was the Ice’s second-string goalie last year and Woodside spent the 2016-17 season with the SMHL’s Swift Current Legionnaires.

In the first intrasquad scrimmage, Woodside slightly outperformed Makaj statistically and only allowed two goals while also stopping a penalty shot opportunity.

According to coach James Patrick, the age of the goalies will not be a factor in whether or not they make the team.

“[The 16-year-old goalies] will be given a very long look,” Patrick said after the first on-ice session of main camp. “They will make the decision for us [and] they’ll be given every opportunity possible.”

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