Ice prospects strut their stuff

Scrimmages between Kootenay's young guns mark the official opening of training camp.

Team White’s Vince Loschiavo stuffs the puck past Jeffrey Veitch of Team Black during a Kootenay Ice prospects scrimmage on Wednesday at Western Financial Place.

Team White’s Vince Loschiavo stuffs the puck past Jeffrey Veitch of Team Black during a Kootenay Ice prospects scrimmage on Wednesday at Western Financial Place.

For the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft class, this will be their first time at a Kootenay Ice training camp, however, those snapped up in previous years will be hunting for a full-time spot on the roster.

Hudson Elynuik is just one of many.

Elynuik, the son of former NHLer Pat Elynuik, joined the Ice at the tail end of the season last year to cover some injury issues, registering an assist in nine games. Prior to joining the Ice, Elynuik was playing Midget AAA in the AMHL, where he tallied 11 goals and 14 assists in 28 games.

When he finished up with the Calgary Flames, it allowed him to become available to the Ice, which made the call in March.

“It was unbelievable,” said Elynuik. “Especially coming in, playing playoffs with a great team. We were the underdogs and pushed ourselves to the limits and unfortunately we came up sort, but still just an unbelievable experience, playing against the Edmonton Oil Kings.”

Elynuik, who was selected 60th overall in the third round of the 2012 bantam draft, said many lessons were learned in those nine games.

“The level of pace, the speed, what it actually takes to be a Western Hockey League player,” he said. “It takes a big commitment, a hard compete level to be at the top.”

That experience, along with getting to know the vets, is making this year’s camp a little different, Elynuik added.

“I know the guys, know the vets and that’s pretty special—how you can communicate with them easily if you’re doing something wrong or if you can do something better,” he said. “It’s a big stepping stone coming up from Midget to the WHL so hopefully I can earn my spot and just got to compete every day in and out.”

After capturing a Midget national championship at the Telus Cup tournament, 17-year-old defenceman Jordan Steenbergen hopes to stick around after playing one game while wearing Ice colours in his hometown of Red Deer.

“It was a lot of fun,” Steenbergen said. “I was super excited because I’ve grown up watching the Rebels, so it was a dream of mine to play in that rink, so it was so surreal.

“I actually played quite a bit, I got a lot of ice time, so it was a lot of fun even though we lost 5-1.”

Steenbergen was a late cut at the end of last year’s training camp, but went back home to the Red Deer Chiefs in the AMHL, playing 32 games and tallying three goals and 13 assists.

The Chiefs nearly dropped out of the Alberta Midget playoffs, when they were tied at two games apiece with the Calgary Buffaloes in the division final matchup. However, the Chiefs went on to edge their Calgary opponents with a 5-4 overtime decision to gain a berth in the final.

Again, splitting two games apiece, the Chiefs went on to win the final game 5-0 for the Alberta Midget Championship.

After downing the Vancouver North West Giants of the B.C. Major Midget League in a best-of-three series, the Chiefs went to Sault Ste. Marie and steamrolled through the Telus Cup tournament,beating  the Ottawa Junior 67’s 5-0 in the final.

“It was awesome, we’re national champs, it was unreal,” said Steenbergen. “It was so hard to get there—our team, what we had to go through.”

After things settled down halfway through May, Steenbergen hit the gym four or five times a week and began skating in July.

He’s taking a leadership role in the prospects games and isn’t afraid to let his nasty side show went the prospects and veterans are mixed together for three days of scrimmages this weekend.

“Last year I was trying to make it, but this year, I’m not going home. I want to make it. I’ve got no other choice,” Steenbergen said.

For some of the Ice sophomores, this year’s camp will be a different experience.

Both Kyle O’Connor and Matthew Thomas made the cut last year, and admit that while they don’t want to sit on their laurels in camp, they are grateful for their rookie seasons and hope to continue their development.

“Last year I really had no idea what to expect,” said Thomas, a defenceman who made the team as a walk-on. “I floated around some different dub camps and every one was a bit different. Now I have a little more confidence this year, knowing I was on the team last year

“It’s a bit different, and I feel more confident with my game. Last year, I never knew where I stood in camp. It was tough to gage sometimes, so now I have a better idea of that and where I fit in, compared to everyone coming to camp.”

O’Connor, a forward who spent his inaugural year with the Ice as a 16-year-old, agreed.

“I definitely don’t want to get complacent, but I definitely know what to expect,” O’Connor said. “I know what my role is, and I definitely have to prove my best out there to get where I want to be this year.”

Both doled out the same advice to the young prospects hoping to land a spot on the 2013/2014 edition of the Ice.

“Don’t be nervous. Go out and play your game, because lots of guys try to come out here and try and be someone they’re not out on the ice, and that never helps,” said Thomas.

“I remember last year, I tried to play simple and not do too much, and I guess it worked pretty well.

Stick to what works and don’t try to do too much special stuff.”

O’Connor echoed the same simple words of wisdom.

“Don’t hold your stick too tight and just play your game,” he said.

CAMP NOTES: Team White was the victor in both prospect scrimmages, beating Team Black 4-1 and 3-2. Team White’s Zachary Zborosky (96-born) scored twice in the first game, while Vince Loschiavo (98-born) notched a pair in the second game. Hudson Elynuik and Zachary Smith did not play in the second game due to undisclosed injuries. Steenbergen’s Telus Cup-winning teammate Jayden Sittler is also attending Kootenay’s camp as one of the five goaltenders. Former Ice captain Joey Leach, who recently graduated and signed a one-year contract with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, was on the ice for a morning skate with the veterans.