With a significant roster overhaul set to hit the Kootenay Ice heading into the 2015-16 Western Hockey League season, the team will need to go about retooling without the services of 2014 first-round selection Griffin Mendel.
According to Jeff Chynoweth, Kootenay Ice president and general manager, Mendel has committed his services to the Penticton Vees of the BCHL (Junior A) for the 2015-16 campaign.
“It’s tough, but every player has choices to make,” Chynoweth said Tuesday afternoon. “Griffin, his family and his advisors have made that [decision] for his 16-year-old season. They haven’t closed the door moving forward.
“From our end, we’ll recruit accordingly. It’s always tough to recover from [losing] any player like that. But you’ve still got to prove yourself in the Western Hockey League. Most coaches don’t care what round you’re drafted in. They want the best players.”
Mendel, a 6-foot-2, 183-pound defenceman from Kelowna, spent the 2014-15 season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy after being selected by the Ice with the 11th-overall pick of the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft.
“We’re not putting a lot of pressure on him to come,” said Garnet Kazuik, Kootenay Ice director of scouting, Wednesday morning. “Yes, we’ve had conversations with him and his family in the hopes he’ll decide to pick our route. We obviously feel it’s the best route for his development.
“The best players play in this league and he’s one of the best players. I think, for him, he needs to measure himself against those guys. It would be very, very good for him and will help his development.
“We’ll wait. We’ll be patient in the hopes that he’ll make the decision to come play with the Kootenay Ice in the Western Hockey League.”
Mendel stood as a strong candidate to join the Kootenay Ice blue line this coming season, with defencemen Tanner Faith, Lenny Hackman, Tyler King and Tanner Lishchynsky caught in the 20-year-old squeeze, in addition to 1995-born Rinat Valiev likely graduating to the professional ranks within the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.
WHL clubs are only permitted to carry three 20-year-olds.
Outside of the five 1995-born defencemen, the Ice currently retain five 20-year-old forwards (Ryan Chynoweth, Jon Martin, Luke Philp, Jaedon Descheneau, Sam Reinhart) and 1995-born goaltender Wyatt Hoflin.
With Valiev and Reinhart set to go pro, that leaves three over-age slots for nine others to compete for as the roster currently stands.
The 16-year-old Mendel sipped his first cup of Junior A coffee by getting into a pair of games with the Vees during the 2014-15 season, notching two penalty minutes.
Mendel suited up for Team B.C. at the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, helping his province to a sixth-place finish.