Kootenay Ice confident in roster following trade deadline

Team only makes pair of trades in final stretch, focused on playoff run after busy year of deals

By the time trade deadline day rolled around, there wasn’t a lot left for Matt Cockell to do.

While other WHL general managers made blockbuster deals leading up to the 3:00 p.m. Wednesday cut off, the first-year Kootenay Ice general manager rested easy.

Having already made 19 trades, since taking over the franchise’s hockey operations in May, Cockell was confident in the group he’s already assembled.

“We have a plan and we got to work on that plan right away, so really there wasn’t a lot that we were looking to get done [right before the deadline],” the GM told media on Wednesday afternoon. “Of course, as we’ve [always] said, if there is a way to make our team better today, but also in the future, we’d look at it, [but] we’re happy keeping our group the way it is.”

The only last minute deals the team made were on Monday, as Cockell first acquired veteran goaltender Matt Berlin from the Seattle Thunderbirds in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick in 2018, and then sent Bailey Brkin to the Spokane Chiefs for an eighth-round pick in 2019.

After starting training camp without a goalie, Berlin is the fifth netminder the Ice have brought in this year to try to provide stability in the crease.

“[In September] we had Mario Petit here on a conditional tryout, essentially, and I think once we realized that we were going to have to modify that plan, there really weren’t a lot [of goalies] out there at that time,” Cockell explained. “[A few] guys had an opportunity, but we’ve been working towards a long-term solution there.”

Although Duncan McGovern, who was acquired from the Medicine Hat Tigers at the end of October, appears to be the goalie of the future, the hope is that Berlin can provide quality mentorship, and help Kootenay in their push for the playoffs.

“McGovern is a goalie that we first started talking to Medicine Hat [about] in June,” Cockell said. “[Getting him was] really a lot of work, and he’s a guy that we think has a bright future. But he’s 17, and we just felt there was [too much] pressure on him to be playing a lot of games consecutively.

“Matt Berlin is an experienced goaltender [and] somebody that we’ve liked for a long time. He’s been a part of a championship team [and] he’s had a number of different roles … it took a while to get to this point, but we’re happy with where we’re at for the goaltending position.”

Last season, Berlin was the backup goaltender for the Seattle team that won the Ed Chynoweth Cup and in 24 games as an injury-relief starter this season, has put up a 12-7-2-1 record with a 3.40 goals against average and a .893 save percentage.

“It’s a great opportunity [here],” Berlin said. “I know what the playoffs are all about, [and] coming into a team like this who hasn’t made the playoffs for the last couple of years, it’s an exciting time for this group of guys.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about [McGovern] too, [and] being an older guy, an older goalie, I just want to mentor him. Hopefully, he can look up to me and learn a couple of things.”

While Kootenay made a lot of moves before the season even started, their most significant deals came in November and December. First pulling off a blockbuster deal that sent captain Cale Fleury to the Regina Pats, then sending star forward Vince Loschiavo to the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Ice sold key assets to help their future.

As part of the Fleury deal, the Ice received a collection of high draft picks in addition to 18-year-old defenceman Jonathan Smart and 16-year-old forward Cole Muir, both of whom have immediately impressed the Ice’s management and the coaching staff alike.

“While we’re new [executives] to the league, we certainly have a lot of experience with respect to player evaluation and getting opinions. [We’ve] worked hard at it, and those were players that we certainly think highly of,” Cockell said. “Muir was a player who was part of a really big deal for us. At the time, those were players that we sought out and we thought would be a really good fit.

“Smart brings a little bit of offense to our blue line. Bradley Ginnell (who Kootenay added from the Portland Winterhawks on December 27) was a player that we really liked [too], and thought that this would be a really great opportunity for him to play on a regular basis and to develop.”

Despite the moves to get younger, with the team tied for second place in the Central Division, the Ice are still expecting to be a playoff team this year. Cockell believes that their players have what it takes to keep up with any team in the WHL.

“I think we’ve been very disciplined, and [acquiring] younger players has really been our focus,” he said. “The deadline is a time where I think if you’re trying to buy an older player, most teams will hold on and wait until the deadline. That hasn’t been a place that we focused on this year … our focus is on development. It’s on the playoffs. It’s on getting better. It’s on sticking to our process.”

Cockell said that he was not willing to discuss trading away their 20-year-old players — including captain Colton Kroeker, Alec Baer and Colton Veloso — and is now looking to see the entire Ice roster begin an ascent to their highest level.

“The second half of the season, we’re looking for the group to mature a little bit,” he said. “Expectations will rise on our players, [because] they’re not rookies anymore. They’ve all had a lot of opportunities to play and [were] free to make mistakes, but those expectations will rise and that’s all part of development.”

Speaking after practice, head coach James Patrick said he was happy to finally have a set roster after a year of regular ins-and-outs.

“I think it’s probably a relief for a few guys,” he said. “We’ve made some changes to our roster over the last couple of weeks, so we weren’t expecting anything to happen [on Wednesday].

“I like our roster [though]. I think we have a lot of 17-year-olds who are going to get better and better, and we [have] depth on our team. For the most part, we’ve got four lines that can skate and play against any line.”

According to Patrick, the team’s biggest move of the week was not a trade, but the return of defenceman Martin Bodak, who will be back in the lineup after almost a month away. Bodak captained Slovakia at the U-20 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York.

“[Bodak] changes the look of our team quite a bit,” he said. “He’s our strongest, physical defenceman, who can outmuscle guys, win battles, [and] move the puck. He can join the rush too, and he’s doing that playing 25 minutes against the [opposition’s] top two lines.”

While he didn’t get many chances to watch full games of Bodak with Slovakia, Patrick knows that the experience was great for him.

“We got little snippets here and there, [and] it seemed like he really stepped it up and was one of their best performers,” he said. “Hopefully, he can just take off from that experience, playing against the best juniors in the world, [and go] to another level for us [now].”

Bodak and the Ice will be back in action, after a week of practice at home, with a road match against the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Saturday. With the Ice on a five-game losing skid, and the division rivals tied in the standings at 39 points apiece, Kootenay is expecting a fierce and entertaining battle.

Kootenay Ice 2017-18 Trade Timeline

1) May 25, 2017:

Kootenay acquires goaltender Mario Petit from Everett in exchange for a conditional 6th round pick in 2018.

Petit was released following training camp.

2) June 29, 2017:

Kootenay acquires forward Cameron Hausinger from the Red Deer Rebels in exchange for a 4th round pick in 2018.

Hausinger has played 40 games for the Ice this season and has 23 points.

3) July 6, 2017:

Kootenay adds a 7th round pick in 2018 from the Spokane Chiefs in exchange for goaltender Declan Hobbs.

Hobbs played 2 games for the Chiefs before being re-assigned to the Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL.

4) August 1, 2017:

Kootenay acquires defenceman Jordan Henderson from the Medicine Hat Tigers in exchange for a conditional 6th round draft pick in 2019.

Henderson was released after training camp. He has since joined the Penticton Vees of the BCHL.

5) August 21, 2017:

Kootenay acquires defenceman Tyler Strath from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for a conditional 5th round pick in 2019 and the playing rights to prospect Austin Wong.

Strath was reassigned following training camp and has played this season with the Okotoks Oilers of the AMHL.

6) September 10, 2017:

Kootenay acquires goaltender Bailey Brkin from the Swift Current Broncos in exchange for forward Max Patterson and a 5th round pick in 2018.

Brkin played 23 games for the Ice, putting up a 7-12-2-0 record with a 4.51 GAA and a 0.874 SV%.

Patterson has played 42 games for the Broncos and has 17 points.

7) September 11, 2017:

Kootenay adds 5th round draft picks in 2018 and 2019 from Seattle Thunderbirds in exchange for forward Noah Philp.

Philp has played 40 games for the Thunderbirds and has 26 points.

8) September 13, 2017:

Kootenay acquires goaltender Kurtis Chapman from the Regina Pats in exchange for a conditional 6th round pick in 2018.

Chapman played 10 games with the Ice before being reassigned to the Calgary Mustangs of the AJHL. He has since joined the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL.

9) September 15, 2017:

Kootenay acquires forward Colton Veloso from the Portland Winterhawks in exchange for a conditional 4th round draft pick in 2018.

Veloso has played 41 games with the Ice and has 23 points.

10) September 18, 2017:

Kootenay acquires forward Alec Baer from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for forward Jake Elmer and a 5th round draft pick in 2018.

Baer has played 42 games for the Ice and has 33 points.

Elmer has played 38 games for the Hurricanes and has 18 points.

11) October 10, 2017:

Kootenay acquires forward Jeff de Wit from the Regina Pats in exchange for forward Tanner Sidaway and a 7th round draft pick in 2018.

De Wit played 15 games with the Ice and had 4 points. He has since been traded again.

12) October 23, 2017:

Kootenay acquires goaltender Duncan McGovern from the Medicine Hat Tigers in exchange for a 5th round draft pick in 2019.

McGovern has played 18 games for the Ice, putting up a 7-4-1-0 record with a 3.06 GAA, 0.889 SV% and one shutout.

13) November 13, 2017:

In a blockbuster deal, the Kootenay Ice trades away captain Cale Fleury to the Regina Pats in exchange for defenceman Jonathan Smart, forward Cole Muir, a 2nd round draft pick in 2018, a 6th round pick in 2018 and a conditional second round pick in 2019.

Fleury has played 23 games for the Pats and has 19 points.

Smart has played 19 games for the Ice and has 10 points.

Muir has played 19 games for the Ice and has 2 points.

Colton Kroeker has taken over the captaincy.

14) November 13, 2017:

Kootenay adds a 5th round draft pick from the Moose Jaw Warriors in exchange for forward Barrett Sheen.

Sheen has played 24 games with the Warriors and has 9 points and 52 penalty minutes.

15) December 11, 2017:

Kootenay acquires forward prospects Jakin Smallwood and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2020 from the Moose Jaw Warriors in exchange for forward Vince Loschiavo.

Smallwood has made one call up appearance for the Ice.

Loschiavo has 8 points in 11 games with the Warriors.

16) December 27, 2017:

Kootenay adds a 6th round draft pick in 2019 from the Victoria Royals in exchange for forward Jeff de Wit.

de Wit has played in 4 games with the Royals and has 4 points.

17) December 27, 2017:

Kootenay acquires forward Brad Ginnell from the Portland Winterhawks in exchange for a second round draft pick in 2018 and a third round selection in 2019.

Ginnell has played in 7 games for the Ice and has one goal.

18) January 8, 2018

Kootenay acquires goaltender Matt Berlin from the Seattle Thunderbirds in exchange for a 5th round draft pick in 2018.

Berlin is expected to make his debut for the Ice this upcoming weekend.

19) January 8, 2018

Kootenay adds 8th round pick in 2019 from Spokane Chiefs in exchange for Bailey Brkin.

Brkin is expected to report to the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits.

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