For the second time this season, the Kootenay Ice have been burned by a player refusing to report to Cranbrook.
Riley Whittingham, 20, acquired from the Spokane Chiefs Monday morning in a deal that sent 20-year-old Presten Kopeck south of the border, is not expected to report to the Kootenay Ice after initially indicating he was excited for the opportunity.
“He has decided not to come [to Cranbrook] and he’s looking at all his options right now,” said Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager of the Kootenay Ice, Thursday afternoon. “It doesn’t look like the Kootenay Ice or the Western Hockey League is an option at this present time.”
Whittingham was acquired from the Chiefs along with a fourth-round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. According to Chynoweth, Whittingham’s refusal to report will not impact the trade with Spokane, as there was protection written into the deal to cover circumstance such as this.
“When I talked to Riley on Monday, he was excited about coming and getting an opportunity for a more expanded role with our hockey club,” Chynoweth said. “But as the day progressed and the week progressed, he’s had second thoughts. He is contemplating his future right now and looking at all options.”
In 34 games this season with the Chiefs, Whittingham posted eight goals and 18 points. Over 228 career WHL games, all with Spokane, the 6-foot-2, 196-pound forward has registered 46 goals and 95 points.
“I’m not going to lose much sleep over it,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice. “I’m not really concerned with it. If [Whittingham] ends up, at some point, deciding to come, he’ll help us with our depth up front. If he’s not here, which is my feeling that he won’t be, it just gives the current group we have more opportunity and more ice time.
“We’re focusing on trying to develop our young players and give them a chance to play. Having a 20-year-old here for a couple months really doesn’t help our project. It’s a win-win either way, in my opinion.”
Should status quo remain, this leaves the Kootenay Ice carrying 22 players — 13 forwards, seven defencemen and two goaltenders — heading into Sunday’s WHL trade deadline.
“I wasn’t counting on this and we’re at that magic number right now with 22 players,” Chynoweth said.
“We’re going to continue to look right up until noon Sunday. If we can better our hockey club, we’ll definitely look at it.”
Whittingham’s refusal to report to the Kootenay Ice is not a new challenge for Chynoweth.
Back on Nov. 26, Chynoweth brokered a deal to bring 18-year-old forward Johnny Wesley to Cranbrook from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.
After confirming Wesley’s willingness to report to the Ice, the deal was rubber-stamped and officially processed by the league. Before the day ended, Wesley had reconsidered his situation and informed Chynoweth he was not going to report.
The deal was nullified by the WHL and Wesley, a native of Surrey, B.C., remained property of the Hurricanes only to be dealt Nov. 30 to the Vancouver Giants for an eighth-round pick in 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.
The Kootenay Ice (7-31-3-0) will move on without the services of Whittingham as they host the Regina Pats (17-17-3-3) Friday night (7 p.m.) at Western Financial Place.