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.
— Kootenay ICE (@WHLKootenayICE) May 4, 2017
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.”
— Connor Mcclennon (@mcclennon_94) May 4, 2017
— Peyton Krebs (@peytonkrebs12) May 4, 2017
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.
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.”
— Kootenay ICE (@WHLKootenayICE) May 4, 2017
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.