Zach Franko already proving his worth

New Kootenay Ice forward adds a pair of goals towards a 5-4 win over the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings on Sunday.

Zach Franko battles for the puck against a defender from the Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday night during WHL action at Western Financial Place.

Zach Franko battles for the puck against a defender from the Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday night during WHL action at Western Financial Place.

Zach Franko is looking good in the blue and white colours of the Kootenay Ice.

The newcomer was an integral part of Kootenay’s offence against the Edmonton Oil Kings on Sunday evening, contributing a pair of goals towards the 5-4 win.

Acquired from the Kelowna Rockets two days before the WHL trade deadline last week, the Ice gave up a sixth-round pick (2014) and a third-round pick (2016) in return.

The trade situation for Franko developed when the Rockets landed Marek Tvrdon, who was sent back to major-junior after playing most of his season in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye within the system of the Detriot Red Wings.

Kelowna acquired Tvrdon from the Vancouver Giants for a first-round pick, which gave them four 20-year-old players with only three available spots.

Kootenay Ice GM Jeff Chynoweth got in touch with his counterpart in Kelowna, Bruce Hamilton, and got the deal done in roughly five minutes.

“It was really a no-brainer for us,” Chynoweth said. “As I said leading up to the trade deadline, we wanted to add an older forward and Zach fits the bill exactly the way we want. Two hundred career points, played with a winning organization, knows what it takes to win, I think  a legitimate top-six forward who’s only going to help our hockey club.”


HIGHLIGHTS: Kootenay Ice 5, Edmonton Oil Kings 4


Franko knew something was up when he met with his coach, Ryan Huska, who delivered the trade news.

“I was bummed out for a bit, but I’m thrilled to be here to help the Ice move on,” said Franko, who had spent his entire four-year WHL career with the Rockets.

Franko had already faced the Ice earlier this year as a member of the Rockets when Kootenay went on their B.C. Division road trip, but he was already well-aware of their reputation.

“I know they played my style of a game,” Franko said. “They’re an up-tempo team that’s very good. Offensively, they have a couple guys that are really hot in the scoring standings and guys that I like to play with.

“That’s why the transition has been fairly easy, is because guys think the game like me and when you can do that, good things will come.”

Good things certainly came on Sunday with his two goals against Edmonton, which edged him over the 200-point mark of his career.

“It’s pretty cool,” Franko said. “The players that I played with in Kelowna and here, it’s a pretty big milestone for me, and it reminds me of the times I’ve had in Kelowna and the times I’m going to have here.

“I just want to come here and contribute and do whatever I can for this team to make a playoff push and make some hay in the playoffs.”

Kootenay is with a full complement of 20-year-olds with Franko, defenceman Jagger Dirk and forward Zach McPhee. The team spent most of last season with only two overage veterans in Joey Leach and Brock Montgomery after Drew Czerwonka retired due to injury concerns.

Chynoweth said he kept the overage spot open because he wanted to make sure he found the right player to fill it.

“We’ve made a lot of changes this year, I think we’ve added five new players from the start of the year and released and traded a few veterans from last year,” said Chynoweth. “We’re a team that doesn’t make a lot of changes. We build through the bantam draft and unfortunately we weren’t in a position with the 1993-age group to do that, and we wanted to make sure we got the right one.

“I know from Zach’s end, and speaking with him, he’s quite excited about our program, he knows about our success and I think he’s going to be a welcome addition to all aspects of our game.”