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Wellsby relishing expanded role as Ice host Tigers

Sophomore Austin Wellsby has found his way into a new role by keeping it simple and he plans to keep it that way
Right wing Austin Wellsby (#17)

For Kootenay Ice winger Austin Wellsby, the answer has always been short and sweet -- just keep it simple.

It’s the simple approach that has landed the 18-year-old native of Chilliwack on the top line alongside captain Luke Philp and veteran winger Zak Zborosky.

According to Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Wellsby’s willingness to follow the game plan and play within his role earned him the opportunity he has since run with.

“The mindset was trying to find a guy we could use as an example of who was following the game plan and doing some of the things we’d asked,” Pierce said Thursday. “Austin, right from day one, he was working really hard. He was being simple. He was following the plans. You want to set an example that you get rewarded for doing things the right way. His reward has been playing with two pretty good players.

“The reason why he’s continued to stay there is he isn’t changing who he is or what he does.

“He is doing a lot of the dirty work. He’s being responsible…He hasn’t changed his game and he’ll continue to have success if he has that mentality.”

Since arriving alongside Philp and Zborosky, the 6-foot-3 sophomore is maintaining that simple  mantra as he etches out a permanent role with two of the WHL’s most dangerous goal scorers.

“They’re obviously really special players,” Wellsby said Thursday. “Throughout practice and games, I’ve learned a lot from them, whether it’s little pointers in practice -- they’re always looking for me to improve and I want to do the same.

“I’m still trying to continue to play my game -- whether it’s playing hard on the forecheck or continuing to win battles -- I haven’t tried to change my game too much.”

Though his linemates might be doing most of the finishing in and around the net, Wellsby is finding his way in that regard as well -- Saturday against the Seattle Thunderbirds, the hard-working winger registered his second multi-point game of the season and his career, tallying a power-play goal and an assist.

Last season, the plucky winger managed one lone goal. This season, the former Chilliwack Bruin has already compiled two goals and six points in 17 games.

While the start to the 2015-16 campaign has been a rosy one for the affable Wellsby, last season left both him and others wondering what role there might be for him moving forward.

As a rookie under former head coach Ryan McGill, Wellsby skated in 35 games and didn’t necessarily see a ton of ice time in the games he did dress for.

Not the easiest way to start one’s Western Hockey League career.

“Coming into this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Wellsby said. “I’ve definitely found a groove coming in. I’d like to continue to produce like I have been.”

The point totals might not be earth shattering, but they provide strong evidence for the work Wellsby has done in developing his game since being provided with a clean slate courtesy the arrival of a new coaching staff.

“He came ready to work and compete right away,” Pierce said of Wellsby.

“It was strictly start from scratch and Austin took advantage of that. He knew he was going to get a fresh start and he found ways to pique our interest in the style of player he is.

“He’s very, very coachable. That’s the biggest thing. I’m probably just as critical on him as on anyone else, but it’s the way that he takes the criticism. He’s never pouty. He’s a very positive person and he understands when he needs to be better.”

For the time being, Wellsby will continue to skate alongside Philp and Zborosky, and that’s welcome news as far as the Ice captain is concerned.

“Wellsby’s been playing great,” Philp said Thursday. “He’s been using his body, getting in on the forecheck and opening up some space for me and ‘Z’ to do our thing.

“He’s got a lot more confidence in himself. He’s always had the ability to make plays and he’s starting to do that more and more.”

Philp, Zborosky and Wellsby will continue leading the offense Friday night when the Kootenay Ice host the Medicine Hat Tigers at Western Financial Place.

The Ice sit four points back of the Tigers in the WHL’s Central Division, so, while still early in the season, Friday night represents a big game for Pierce’s crew.

“Medicine Hat moves the puck real quick, they use the net really well. They kind of protect themselves that way,” Pierce said. “We’ve got to be doing our best to turn the game a little more choppy. Lots of starts and stops. Killing puck momentum.

“If we can find ways to stay in the offensive zone, it’s going to keep their offense away from us.”

Puck drop between the Ice and Tigers is slated for 7 p.m. Friday.

Notes: The Ice are hoping D Cale Fleury will be ready this weekend, whether that be Friday against Medicine Hat or Saturday when Kootenay travels to Lethbridge. Fleury has been out since the first week of October after sustaining an upper-body injury… The Junior A playings rights for Ice D Tyler King, who has yet to play this season while he recovers from off-season knee surgery, were dealt from the Melville Millionaires to the Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Thursday afternoon…