Eli Lieffers was sitting in math class back at home in Saskatoon when his phone rang.
On most occasions, it isn’t advisable for a 15-year-old kid to answer his cell phone during school, but Wednesday morning, the Kootenay Ice prospect took a chance.
And boy, was he glad he picked up that phone.
“I was nervous — I felt sick to my stomach,” Lieffers said, remembering Wednesday’s phone call requesting his services in Cranbrook, following Friday’s 2-1 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors. “But I knew if I come out here and I work hard and do what I can do, it will be okay.”
Work is exactly what he did as he made his Western Hockey League debut Friday night.
Stepping onto the ice surface at Western Financial Place, the fourth-round pick of the Kootenay Ice couldn’t help but reminisce on growing up watching his hometown Saskatoon Blades.
“I always used to go watch Blades games,” Lieffers said. “It was kind of weird to be in a different role, instead of watching [WHL] games, playing in the game. It was a good experience for me.”
For a 15-year-old to make his WHL debut, there needs to be pretty extenuating circumstance and faced without six regular skaters Friday night, Luke Pierce found himself scrounging for healthy bodies.
While the 6-foot-2, 155-pound Lieffers might have some maturing to do, Pierce sees plenty of upside in his game.
“After his first two shifts, there really wasn’t much to tell him,” Pierce said Friday. “He’s a smart kid. He gets it.
“I was impressed with how he played.”
After his debut Friday, Lieffers suited up for his second night of action Saturday against the Swift Current Broncos — another 2-1 victory for his Kootenay Ice.
“It was a good experience just to be on the bench and feel the atmosphere of the players,” Lieffers said. “It was a lot of fun.”
A fourth-round pick (78th overall) of the Ice at the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, Lieffers skated at his first WHL training camp this fall, getting into one exhibition game wit the Ice before returning to the Saskatoon Contacts of the Saskatchewan Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League.
In 16 games since then, Lieffers has posted two goals and three points. With this weekend’s two-game WHL recall, he now has a better taste for where he needs to get to if he wants to be a full-time member of the Kootenay Ice when he is eligible come the 2016-17 season.
“I’m just very fortunate that the coaches and management gave me the opportunity to play in this game,” Lieffers said. “I’m just happy to be here.”