With substantial roster turnover coming to the Kootenay Ice this season, Monday’s prospect sessions may have been the most important scrimmages this team has seen in years.
The Kootenay Ice opened training camp Monday at Western Financial Place with a pair of prospect games sandwiched around a veterans-only skate to set the stage for the remainder of the week.
With the likes of Tim Bozon, Sam Reinhart and Rinat Valiev turning pro and a sizeable handful of 1995-born players left battling for three coveted overage roster spots, there’s plenty of space for new faces in the Kootenay Ice dressing room this coming season.
“When you lose a lot of guys like we’re going to lose, it’s always tough,” said 19-year-old Luke Philp following the veterans practice Monday afternoon. “But other guys have got to jump in and step up. We’re going to have a way younger team this year than we did last year and years past.
“It gives some of the younger guys a good chance to come in and fill roles.”
Those younger guys Philp referred to hit the ice for the first time Monday morning in a prospect game that featured 41 players and saw a dominant Team Black beat up Team White by a 12-3 final score.
After a shuffling of the deck, the afternoon prospect game proved a much more competitive outing, with Team Black getting past Team White by a 6-4 margin.
“The first game, [the players] are nervous. They’re trying too hard and they’re afraid to make mistakes,” said Garnet Kazuik, director of scouting for the Kootenay Ice.
“The improvement in the second game was much better. They relaxed. They settled in. Overall, everybody was that much better.”
Forward Max Patterson, a fourth-round selection (77th overall) of the Kootenay Ice at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, jumped to the forefront as one standout through the pair of prospect sessions.
The Kamloops native, who doesn’t turn 16 until Dec. 27, showed a certain ninja-like presence as he pick-pocketed a few opponents, which on two occasions led to goals.
By the time the day had wrapped up, the 6-foot-3 forward had found the back of the net four times.
“It feels pretty good…It’s going to be a fun year, hopefully,” Patterson said following his two-goal effort at the morning prospect scrimmage.
Patterson is in his second year at Kootenay Ice camp, this being his first year of eligibility in the Western Hockey League.
The lanky winger spent the 2014-15 season with Okanagan Hockey Academy before getting a taste of the junior game with the Kamloops Storm of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
“It’s way faster,” Patterson said of the jump from midget to junior hockey. “You always have to be moving your feet, shooting the puck hard and always bearing down.”
While Patterson is looking at his first opportunity to break into the WHL, another Ice prospect is staring down his second chance at cracking the major junior ranks.
For Jared Legien, the 2014-15 season began in Cranbrook after he made the opening-day roster as a 16-year-old.
A first-round pick (ninth overall) at the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, Legien went on to play at three different levels throughout the 2014-15 season.
“It feels great. It’s nice to be back in Cranbrook, it’s a nice place to play and hopefully it lasts longer this year,” Legien said Monday morning.
“It was great to be able to come up and play with the guys [in Cranbrook last season]. You learn a lot. It’s a huge jump from midget to the WHL. Playing a couple games last year made the transition a bit easier.”
The native of Pilot Butte, Sask., lasted 13 games with the Ice in 2014, registering one assist, before being sent back to his Midget ‘AAA’ team in Moose Jaw with a little bit of homework.
“Jared needs to work on some things — some little every day things,” Kazuik said. “We’ve talked to him about that over the last two years. We sent him home with some marching orders or work orders — some things he had to improve through the winter and it looks like he has done that, but at the same time, he’s still got some room for improvement.
“If he’s an honest player, if he competes every day, it’ll be fine. But if he doesn’t, he’s in the same boat as everybody else — it doesn’t go so well.”
In 29 games with the Moose Jaw Generals, the 6-foot-1 left-winger tallied 10 goals and 19 points.
On top of that, he snuck into one contest with the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, making for a well-rounded set of experience in his 16-year-old campaign.
With the roster turnover about to set in, there’s never been a better opportunity for the former first-round pick to hunt down and hold on to a roster spot in Cranbrook.
“I think it was good to be able to play at every level last year,” Legien said. “Obviously the Western League is, I think, the hardest league to play in. It’s the fastest and the strongest. Being able to play in those leagues, I figured out where I want to be. I think it helped me push myself this summer to get to where I want to be.
“With the turnover here, if I work hard, hopefully I can land a spot and just battle, just never give up.”
Camp wears on Tuesday at Western Financial Place with the prospects and veterans thrown into the ring together for the first time this year.
The day breaks down into five separate ice times, with scrimmages taking place at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Wedged between the scrimmage sessions is a goaltender-specific ice time at 1 p.m.
Notes: Skating at veterans practice Monday were alumni F Adam Cracknell and G Nathan Lieuwen, in addition to D Rinat Valiev.