In the opening weeks of the season, the Kootenay Ice were forced to make several difficult roster decisions. Heading into Thanksgiving weekend their lineup is almost set, but they still have one more big cut to make — they need to get rid of a goalie.
Unlike most of their WHL competition, the Ice are still holding three goaltenders. So far this season, Payton Lee, Declan Hobbs, and rookie Jakob Walter have all traded off spending time in net, on the bench, and in the press box.
After Walter’s admirable debut performance against Moose Jaw on Tuesday, in which he made 32 saves on 35 shots and was named the game’s third star, management’s decision has been made even harder.
“It’s [going to be] really tough [but] it’s a good problem to have,” coach Luke Pierce said on the crowded situation in net. “Depth in that position is extremely important and we feel confident in all three guys and I don’t know that we’re in a huge rush to make that [decision].
“I think we’ll talk a little more this week and we’ll take all three guys on the trip with us and then see from there.”
For their part, the goaltending trio doesn’t seem too concerned.
“It’s [been] fun, we all get along,” Walter said following Tuesday’s game. “We all know we’re fighting for a spot here so we just keep playing hard and [wait to] see what happens.”
Walter also said that despite the competition, he’s taken advantage of the opportunity to learn from his colleagues.
“[Lee] is a good mentor, he tells me to keep going and just keep working hard, doing what you’re doing and [success] will come.”
As one of the Ice’s three designated 20-year-old players who was brought in during the off-season to give the Ice stability, Lee is unlikely to be going anywhere.
Hobbs also has an assumed advantage over Walter, due to having played for the Ice in 24 games last season and being a year older.
The fact that Walter has stuck around as long as he has, however, gives cause to believe that he could overtake Hobbs, if one of them either falters or exceeds expectations.
So far this season Lee has gotten three starts and has a team-best 0.920 save percentage, while Hobbs and Walter both have one start apiece and have 0.914 and 0.870 save percentages, respectively.
General manager Jeff Chynoweth previously told the Townsman that the team’s goal was to get to two goalies by around Thanksgiving.
Although choosing their two goaltenders is important, the team is also in desperate need of their first win. Lee would be the safest bet on putting up a ‘W’ but with the real battle for a roster spot looking to be between Hobbs and Walter, Kootenay might also look to ensure that they both get action in Saskatchewan.
But will the team opt to go with three different starters during a very challenging weekend, on the road, against extremely talented competition? And if not, how will they ensure they’ve made an informed choice?
These questions will certainly be answered over the next few days. The Ice are in Regina on Friday to take on the Pats, they then head to Moose Jaw for a Saturday night game against the Warriors, and finally close out the trip in Swift Current where they play the Broncos on Monday afternoon.