With an NHL draft pick in the crease for the Kootenay Ice, it’s safe to say Mackenzie Skapski’s job is relatively secure.
However, four other netminders came out to the club’s training camp, each with something to prove.
Wyatt Hoflin, who backed up Skapski last year, has returned for his sophomore year, and will push Skapski to be at his best, while prospects Jayden Sittler, Jeffrey Veitch and Declan Hobbs worked at leaving a good impression in front of a crowd of scouts and the coaching staff of Ryan McGill and Jay Henderson.
All five were split up between three teams for intrasquad scrimmages during training camp, and were also put to work in two sessions with goaltending coach Mike Bergren.
“A lot of the stuff we’re doing out there is game situation,” said Bergren, before one such session. “I’ve got all season to work with the stationary stuff with these guys and I want to kind of cater it to the coaching staff and the the scouts to show them certain situations where you see a lot of plays.
“A lot of stuff develops from the half wall down, we’re doing a lot of stuff like that, so we’re showing what the goaltender can do in those situation. Also being able to track and control rebounds is a big thing.”
Having worked with Skapski and Hoflin last season, Bergren said he wants to do some fine-tuning with his two immediate pupils, while introducing the other three prospects to WHL level of play with more of an emphasis on teaching.
“Get them accustomed to the game, the quickness of the release, learning how to read plays a little bit better,” said Bergren. “A big thing for all of them, is at the Midget level, you can get away with being a little erratic in the crease, but now, because everything moves so quickly, they don’t have that luxury of always having a chance to get back.
“So I’m teaching them and getting them used to a lot of just taking up space, learning how to take away space from the shooter, as opposed to just trying to react to everything.”
Bergren, who is based in Calgary with World Pro Goaltending, was able to get a few weeks in with Sittler last year, who calls Red Deer home, and also got a few days with Hobbs, who hails from Saskatoon. However, the trek out to Abbotsford to see Veitch is too far off the beaten track.
That being said, they all bring something to the table, Bergren said.
“They all have certain skills that they excel in, and some that are ample, and some that need improvement,” Bergren continued. “And you’re gonna see that with every goaltender coming through camp, it doesn’t matter where you’re at.”
Sittler captured a national championship with the Red Deer Chiefs, winning the Telus Cup in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont, last April, along with fellow Ice prospect Jordan Steenbergen. Veitch, an eighth round pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, spent some time in the PIJHL with the Mission City Outlaws.
For first timer Declan Hobbs, who was picked up in the WHL Draft back in June, training camp was a bit of a shock to the system, especially going up against WHL level players in the scrimmages.
It was hard not to feel a pang of sympathy when guys like Sam Reinhart breezed across the blue line and sniped a well-placed low shot into the corner of the net.
However, Hobbs, a third-rounder, who played Bantam last season and will be jumping into Midget, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think it’s a big adjustment for the shots and the releases coming quicker, so adjusting to the level of speed for the game—I’m getting there,” Hobbs said. “It’s getting better each game and it’s tough to adjust to it.”
Bergren agreed, noting that trial by fire is the best way to get his young goaltenders used to the pace of major-junior hockey.
“I think it’s a great learning tool for him. There are going to be situations where he may not have a good game against some of these guys, and he’s been hit up for a couple goals here and there in the scrimmages, but it’s not because he’s playing poorly,” Bergren said. “He’s got a big adjustment to make in terms of the speed of the game, the quickness of the release and just learning how to track at this level, I think is something that goes relatively unnoticed until you actually get out on the ice with these guys and you realize how much quicker, how much faster, how crisp everything is. And that’s something that, especially coming out of Bantam hockey, that you don’t see at that level.”
With Skapski the go-to guy in the crease for the Ice, Hoflin will have to earn his ice time by pushing his netminding partner everyday. Bergren said he was impressed from what he saw from the 18-year-old stopper at camp.
“He seems really engaged and really excited to get going and that’s exciting for me, because his first in the league last year and not playing very much, it’s tough,” Bergren said. “It’s easy to get down and easy to kind of lose sight of your goals throughout the season and just accepting a role that maybe you’re not used to, and that’s part of being in the league and growing as a player, so I’m excited to see that he’s come back with a very positive attitude and a good outlook on the season.”