‘ICE Country’ makes splash at Bantam Draft

‘ICE Country’ makes splash at Bantam Draft

New ownership, top-end prospects highlight important day for future of Kootenay Ice

There was a new sense of excitement surrounding the Kootenay Ice at the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.

On Thursday morning, in only their fourth day as the official owners of the franchise, Matt Cockell and Greg Fettes made a splash in Calgary with their enthusiastic and engaged social media presence.

But while live updates and behind-the-scenes peeks on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram signalled a new era in ‘#ICECountry’, one thing didn’t change — a commitment to picking the best players and citizens available.

Building off a strong 2016 draft, in which Kootenay selected Okotoks forward Peyton Krebs with the first overall pick, the Ice continued to stockpile assets at this year’s event.

Although the Ice did not win the draft lottery in April — which would have allowed them to have their pick of any eligible 2002-born prospect from the western provinces and states — due to having the worst record in the WHL in 2016-17, Kootenay picked second overall on Thursday morning.

After Prince Albert, who had the top pick, selected defenceman Kaiden Guhle, the Ice were able to take the top forward on their prospect list.

Director of scouting, Garnet Kazuik, announced the selection of Connor McClennon from the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy, a decision he was thrilled to make.

“We’re very happy [and] excited to get him,” Kazuik said over the phone from Calgary shortly after the draft. “[He has] the most coveted aspects that you [want]. You’re always looking for scoring [and] he’s a goal scorer, there’s no doubt about it.”

McClennon was the MVP of the CSSBHL and led the league in scoring last year while playing with POE in Kelowna, scoring 45 goals and putting up 54 assists in 30 games

“He’s going to have his ups-and-downs as he goes but he’s a scorer — he knows how to score, he loves to score,” Kazuik continued. “He’s a competitor, he elevates his game against other top players when they go in head-to-head matches.”

Kazuik also spoke very highly of McClennon as a person.

“He’s a very excited kid, he’s [always] got a big smile on his face [and] when you look him in the eyes you can see how much he loves the game of hockey,” he said. “[The Kootenay Ice] are always looking for great citizens and he fits that mold.”

McClennon’s arrival to the organization has been years in the making and Kazuik is so familiar with him that he won’t even compare him with any past WHL players.

“We’ve had two years of watching him, I don’t even know how many times [I’ve seen him]. 70 times, 80 times in the last two years,” Kazuik said. “I’ll leave that up to [the media] to give him some comparisons, I want Connor McClennon to be Connor McClennon.”

Although on paper McClennon seems like a perfect fit down the line to play with Krebs, a player lauded for his playmaking abilities, Kazuik said that the organization won’t force that combination.

“We’re not putting any weight on that [potential duo] because we’ve got some other great young players right now,” he said. “You look [at the talent we have] at our 2000-age group … each one of these players is going to find their own linemates.”

With their second pick, the first of the second round, the Ice selected defenceman Anson McMaster from the Rocky Mountain Raiders Bantam AAA.

In a draft that Kazuik admitted beforehand was lacking in high-quality defensive prospects, the Ice were thrilled to pick up the 6’3” Siksika, Alberta product.

“The organization called for a defenceman early and we were very excited that [McMaster] was still available at that time,” Kazuik said. “He’s a big, tall, rangy right-handed defenceman. Again, those are coveted [attributes].”

With the Raiders, the same team that Krebs was drafted from in 2016, McMaster put up 15 goals and 24 assists in 36 games.

“He’s got a hard, heavy shot [and] he’s got a presence on the ice. He’s got a big long stick [and] uses that stick well to defend,” Kazuik added. “He’s [also] actually quite good at the power play for his age.

“We’re very excited to have him. [Defence] was a priority and we feel that we nailed it.”

In total, the Ice added 10 new prospects to their system including three more forwards, three defenceman, and two goalies.

“We’re very excited about the draft class,” Kazuik said. “I know that my scouting staff is excited about the draft class and they’re the ones that put in the hard work and the time and the miles.

“We were very, very happy and I can’t say enough about it.”

Kootenay Ice president and general manager Matt Cockell was also thrilled with how the day shaped up, his first major event at the helm of the organization.

“It’s exciting for myself and for ‘ICE country’ — the Cranbrook and East Kootenay region — because this is our future,” Cockell said. “[Kazuik] and the staff did a tremendous job throughout the year [to get to this point].

“I had a chance to be with the [scouts] over the last four weekends at each of the under-16 [provincial] championships to get a sense of who they were liking and [we] have had some great discussions about the players and we’re really happy with how the day went.

“All the players that were selected, were selected for a reason. Our job now is to provide an amazing player experience for them and we’re really focused on doing that.”

Cockell also made strides towards improving the Kootenay Ice fan experience at the draft. With a steady stream of posts, photos and videos through the team’s social media, he says the team is looking to engage in a whole new way.

“We want people to be a part of [the team],” he said. “We’re excited to take the lead and get the ball rolling but as we get feedback from people in the community, we’ll evolve and do more in some areas and maybe do some things differently.

“We really want to be as transparent as possible [though] and provide a forum for people to participate.”

Although it’s been a whirlwind of a first week, Cockell is as excited as ever for the future of the Kootenay Ice and is looking forward to starting to organize a season ticket drive next week.

“[The season ticket drive] will be a really important step for what we want to do moving forward,” he explained. “We’re still in the process of gathering [feedback] from a number of stakeholders in the community.

“We’ll make some final decisions in terms of what value we’re able to offer [soon]. We’re having a lot of conversations with the city, the concessionaire, [and] the ticketing company that we work with, so we’re well on our way.”

Cockell concluded by saying that more information on season tickets would be coming in the next couple of weeks.

ICE CHIPS: Only one player with Cranbrook listed as their hometown by the WHL was selected in the 2017 draft. Wyatt Marlow, who played the 2016-17 season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy Bantam Prep team, was selected in the 10th round, 211th overall by the Swift Current Broncos.

Kootenay Ice 2017 Bantam Draft Selections

1st Round, 2nd Overall: Connor McClennon

Birthdate: June 25, 2002

Hometown: Wainwright, Alberta

Position: Forward

Height: 5’7”

2016-17 Team: Pursuit of Excellence Bantam Prep

2016-17 Stats: 45 goals, 54 assists, 99 points, 36 penalty minutes in 30 games

2nd Round, 23rd Overall: Anson McMaster

Birthdate: July 14, 2002

Hometown: Siksika, Alberta

Position: Defence

Height: 6’4”

2016-17 Team: Rocky Mountain Raiders Bantam AAA

2016-17 Stats: 15 goals, 24 assists, 39 points, 34 penalty minutes in 36 games

3rd Round, 45th Overall: James Form

Birthdate: January 25, 2002

Hometown: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Position: Forward

Height: 6’0”

2016-17 Team: Saskatoon Outlaws Bantam AA

2016-17 Stats: 29 goals, 27 assists, 56 points, 24 penalty minutes in 30 games

4th Round, 67th Overall: Jake Sanderson

Birthdate: July 8, 2002

Hometown: Calgary, Alberta

Position: Defence

Height: 5’11”

2016-17 Team: Calgary Flames Bantam AAA

2016-17 Stats: 5 goals, 13 assists, 18 points, 26 penalty minutes in 29 games

4th Round, 72nd Overall: Will Gurski

Birthdate: October 23, 2002

Hometown: Duncan, BC

Position: Goalie

Height: 6’3”

2016-17 Team: Shawnigan Lake School Bantam Prep

2016-17 Stats: 8.89 goals against average, .844 save percentage in 22 games

5th Round, 89th Overall: Owen Pederson

Birthdate: March 27, 2002

Hometown: Stony Plain, Alberta

Position: Forward

Height: 6’0”

2016-17 Team: OHA Edmonton Bantam Prep

2016-17 Stats: 15 goals, 19 assists, 34 points, 12 penalty minutes in 30 games

5th Round, 91st Overall: Brett Fogg

Birthdate: February 8, 2002

Hometown: Wadena, Saskatchewan

Position: Defenceman

Height: 5’11”

2016-17 Team: Humboldt Broncos Bantam AA

2016-17 Stats: 9 goals and 17 assists, 26 points, 76 penalty minutes in 30 games

6th Round, 111th Overall: Benjamin Zloty

Birthdate: February 24, 2002

Hometown: Calgary, Alberta

Position: Defenceman

Height: 5’8”

2016-17 Team: Calgary Royals Bantam AAA

2016-17 Stats: 7 goals, 18 assists, 25 points, 26 penalty minutes in 36 games

7th Round, 133th Overall: Gage Alexander

Birthdate: July 2, 2002

Hometown: Okotoks, Alberta

Position: Goalie

Height: 6’5”

2016-17 Team: Okotoks Oilers Bantam AA

2016-17 Stats: 2.41 goals against average, .930 save percentage in 18 games

8th Round, 155th Overall: Michael Milne

Birthdate: September 21, 2002

Hometown: Abbotsford, BC

Position: Forward

Height: 5’7”

2016-17 Team: Yale Bantam Prep

2016-17 Stats: 13 goals, 13 assists, 26 points, 20 penalty minutes in 30 games