It’s a youth movement between the pipes for the Kootenay Ice this season.
Mackenzie Skapski, 18, and Wyatt Hoflin, 17, are the last standing netminders that survived training camp and both are preparing for being the go-to stoppers in the regular season.
Skapski is expected to be the starter after sitting on the bench for much of last season as Nathan Lieuwen’s backup. Lieuwen graduated out of the WHL this year, signing a pro contract with the Buffalo Sabres in May.
But the young goaltender knows that a starting job has to be earned, not expected.
“Nathan filled some big shoes for this organization,” said Skapski. “I’m looking to fill those shoes again this year.
“He offered a lot to me last year. I think his consistency was the biggest thing that stood out to me and if I can incorporate that consistency in my game this year, I’m sure we’ll have a successful season, just like last year.”
Skapski played in 19 regular-season games last year, posting a 3.12 goals against average and a save percentage of 0.890.
He got in two games this weekend past, taking two losses against the Tri City Americans and the Everett Silvertips.
“I know I can only take the positive and move forward,” said Skapski. “I got tested out pretty good this weekend—that’s something I can relate into the season, that’s something I can transfer over into the season.
“Being tested like that in Tri City was helpful for my development.”
Also tested in the three-game tournament south of the border was Hoflin, who stood in net and faced a shooting gallery from the high-powered offense of the Portland Winterhawks.
“If I can face 52 shots in a game, it’s going to help me out a lot when we get into those more defensive games where where it’s just 30,” said Hoflin. “And it got my confidence up, playing at this level.”
Holfin is hoping to stick with the Ice this year, after playing AAA Midget with the St. Albert Raiders in Alberta last year, making 18 appearances during the season and earning a 2.38 goals against average and a 0.903 save percentage. He stood in goal during the Raiders’ run to the provincial finals, losing out to the Red Deer Rebels.
Hoflin and Skapski have crossed paths before at training camps in years past, and kept in touch over the summer, knowing they’d have a good chance of being the goaltending team this season.
“We’re really excited about this year and we really get along,” said Skapski. “He’s a great goalie and I’m sure he’ll push me and I’ll push him and it’ll be a good healthy relationship between us.”
While it’s the sole job of the goaltender to keep the puck out of the net, the rest of the team also has a hand in that responsibility, and Skapski is confident the squad in front of him
“Everybody’s work ethic and the determination and the commitment from everybody— those are big character traits in this organization and they’re mandated,” Skapski said, “so that transfers over onto the ice and it only makes my job that much more easier and I try to provide those same qualities for the team.”
The Ice play two more preseason games this weekend, as they meet the Lethbridge Hurricanes and the Calgary Hitmen halfway in the Crowsnest Pass on Friday and Sunday.
Both Skapski and Hoflin are hoping to see some more ice time before the start of the regular season.
The latter is still adjusting to the pace of play in the WHL by taking advantage of daily practice sessions.
“It’s more just facing those pucks and getting my conditioning up to par,” said Hoflin. “[Also] getting my movement around the net up, so when I do step into the net in a game, whenever that is, I’ll be good to go.”
Consistency is what Ice head coach Ryan McGill will be looking for from his two goaltenders, a characteristic that fluctuated a bit over the weekend in the Tri-City tournament.
“We just got to make sure they have all their ducks in a row as far as their technical game, and then when they go out, whether they get scored on, or there’s a bad play, they move on and move forward and forget about it so they can keep that consistency through their game,” said McGill.