The Kootenay Ice have recalled 16-year-old forward Tanner Sidaway from the Westshore Wolves of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL).
The 5-foot-11, 164-pound product of Victoria arrived in Cranbrook Thursday afternoon in time for practice with the Ice at Western Financial Place and is slated to make his Western Hockey League debut Friday night against the Spokane Chiefs.
“I’m very excited, it’s going to be a whole new experience, a whole new level of play,” Sidaway said Thursday. “Just getting out there to play at a whole new level is going to be really interesting and taking that next step is going to be really exciting.”
Sidaway is an intriguing prospect for a rebuilding Kootenay Ice club.
Acquired as a part of the Jan. 3 trade that sent former Ice captain Luke Philp to the Red Deer Rebels, Sidaway was never selected in the WHL Bantam Draft, but signed a WHL standard player contract with the Rebels July 9, 2015.
While time has allowed the shock of being dealt to wear off, Sidaway is excited to prove he belongs in the WHL.
“You try to look at it in a positive way,” Sidaway said, reflecting on finding out he had been traded. “[The Ice] wouldn’t have made the trade without getting me. You look at it that way and say, ‘That means I’m important to them.’ I need to play the best I can be because this is where I want to go.
“As long as you’re taking that next step to the next level, that’s all that matters.”
For starters, Sidaway has already taken one step in advancing his career this season.
After playing 40 games and recording nine goals and 12 points with the South Island Royals of the B.C. Major Midget League last season, Sidaway has graduated to the junior hockey ranks as a 16-year-old — not an easy task.
Through 37 games with Junior B Wolves this season, the well-spoken youngster has racked up eight goals, 13 points and a whopping 138 minutes in penalties.
“I like to take the puck wide and use my speed,” Sidaway said. “I like to bang the body and I don’t care if guys are bigger than me. I’m going to go in and if you have the puck, I’m going to hit you. Hopefully I can get the crowd pumped up a bit.”
All of that comes as welcome words to Kootenay Ice head coach Luke Pierce, whose squad has lacked physicality at times through the 2015-16 WHL campaign.
“We know he’s an energy guy who’s got a physical edge to him,” Pierce said Thursday. “He is a good size kid for a young 16-year-old. Those are elements that I think we desperately need as a team — the energy and physicality part of it. I’m hoping he can find a way to fill a role here right away.”
Sidaway will have the opportunity to suit up in this weekend’s home-and-home series with the Spokane Chiefs, before returning back to Vancouver Island to finish out the 2015-16 season.
“We want to give him an opportunity to have some sort of success and not feel overwhelmed,” Pierce said. “He will probably play with some different guys. He’s naturally a centreman, but right now our depth in the middle is okay. We’ll probably play him [Friday] on the left side and we’ll judge it from there.
“The biggest thing is just trying to make sure he enjoys it and not overcomplicate things. We’ll keep it pretty basic for him… For him, it’s just go out and have fun, play hard and not worry a lot about the mistakes that will be made out there because we all make them.”
Sidaway is expected to wear sweater No. 26 when he makes his Kootenay Ice debut Friday night in Cranbrook.
“I’m going to play as hard as I can and make good plays, make smart plays that get you noticed,” Sidaway said. “Take the puck to the net… Call for the puck, make good passes, battle hard, back check, forecheck — all the little things that coaches and scouts look for.”
Strong words coming from a motivated and confident young man. And that’s reason enough for Kootenay Ice fans to be excited and intrigued.
Sidaway and the Ice (9-41-4-0) welcome the Spokane Chiefs (26-21-4-2) to Western Financial Place for a 7 p.m. puck drop Friday evening.
Friday marks the fifth and final game of a season-long homestand for the Ice who travel to Spokane for a rematch with the Chiefs Saturday night.