The WHL regular season is right around the corner, and while Kootenay Ice players are fired up and ready to go, so is the management, including general manager Jeff Chynoweth.
The team will open the new campaign at Western Financial Place on Friday night, with a home-and-home series with the Red Deer Rebels.
Chynoweth has been watching the veterans and the prospects throughout training camp and the preseason, and he likes what he’s seen so far.
“I was very happy with training camp,” Chynoweth said. “I thought a lot of young players stepped up their game and showed what they have to bring as players down the road for our hockey club, and I think that bodes well for our future.
“You want to leave camp with your younger players leaving an impression and I think, for the most part, they did, and the first-year players that advanced on through the preseason have not disappointed as well, and I think over time, once they get adjusted and acclimatized to the Western Hockey League, they’re going to be big assets to our hockey club.”
Kootenay still has six holdovers from training camp, as prospects Hudson Elynuik, Zach Zborosky and Matthew Alfaro are pushing for spots as forwards, while Jordan Steenbergen, Troy Murray and Dylan Overdyk are hoping to land in the defensive corps.
The team is carrying 14 forwards, eight defencemen and two goaltenders. Of that total, 18 are returning veterans from last year.
With the retirement of Tanner Muth due to his history of concussions, the team only has two 20-year-old players, with Jagger Dirk on defence, and Zach McPhee up front.
Chynoweth is content to hold off on making any moves until the Oct. 15th deadline.
“We’re in no rush, we’re going to wait it out,” Chynoweth said. “This year, unfortunately, there’s not an overabundance of over-age players available, and we want to be very selective, and make sure we’re getting the right player who would be the right fit for our hockey club.”
Kootenay played the majority of last season with only two overage players in Brock Montgomery and Joey Leach, after Drew Czerwonka retired in October. No deals for another overager were made by the January trade deadline.
While Chynoweth waits for the October deadline, he’s also waiting for the situation with Russian import defenceman Rinat Valiev to play out, as he has yet to receive his Canadian visa.
Valiev, who played in the USHL last year with the Indiana Ice, recently attended training camp with the Dallas Stars, but has since returned to his home country.
“He’s in Moscow right now, Rinat has just returned from the main camp of the Dallas Stars, he is skating over in Russia and we’re hoping to have something maybe in the next two weeks, but there’s no guarantee that that’s the time frame that’s going to work,” Chynoweth said.
Valiev, who was ranked in the 162nd in the North American skaters list of the 2013 CSS Rankings, went undrafted by NHL teams last June, but attended camp with the Stars on an invite.
The team handed out season ticket packages with a pancake breakfast last Saturday, which was well-attended by fans. However, season ticket numbers are down by 140 from last year’s total, and some of those home games had the lowest attendance in franchise history.
NOTES: Former Ice forward Erik Benoit, who was traded to Saskatoon last January, was released by the Blades on Wednesday as they cut down their overage players. Benoit was subsequently scooped up by the Seattle Thunderbirds, which are trying to manage their 20-year-old situation, as one of their overagers—Mitch Elliot—has been invited to an AHL camp with the Utica Comets….TSN has released their preseason NHL draft rankings, and Sam Reinhart is at the top of it, with OHL defenceman Aaron Ekblad right behind him.