When Jesse Zaharichuk joined the Kootenay Ice, it wasn’t under the most ideal circumstance.
Traded east from the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers on Sunday, Nov. 29, the 18-year-old native of Sherwood Park, Alta., didn’t have to go far to join his new team as the Ice were slated to face the Blazers Tuesday, Dec. 1 in Kamloops.
“It was definitely a challenge playing against some of my best friends that I got real close with over the past year, year and a half,” Zaharichuk said Thursday afternoon prior to practice at Western Financial Place. “The emotions were definitely running high. It was definitely something I’ll cherish, but this is a different opportunity for myself.”
Zaharichuk was dangerous that emotional night in Kamloops. Though the speedy winger created a number of quality scoring opportunities — including ringing one off the iron behind Blazers netminder Connor Ingram — he was unable to find twine as his former club cruised to a 5-1 victory.
Now with five games under his belt as a member of the Kootenay Ice, Zaharichuk is settling in and the hope is he will grow into a bigger role with his new squad moving forward.
Having posted four goals and 13 points in 22 games split between the Blazers and Ice so far this season, Zaharichuk wants to fill an offensive role within the team’s top-six forwards and certainly has the potential to do just that.
“We’re hopeful that Jesse can start to really commit himself to being a core part of our group,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Thursday afternoon. “That’s up to him. He’s been a little more of a periphery guy in the past with his teams because they’ve had real strong cores. He’s got to be a guy for us that is going to help lead us every day and really take on that responsibility of being a top-end player.
“That’s something that might be a bit of a change for him, but we’re hoping he can commit to [that] and we can push him to be better.”
A veteran of 70 WHL games and having registered seven goals and 28 points over that span, Zaharichuk stands as one of the more experienced skaters on a rookie-laden Ice squad.
Having settled in with his new Cranbrook billet family Wednesday, Zaharichuk is looking forward to a fresh beginning with the Ice as they host the Swift Current Broncos Saturday night.
The former Blazer has yet to register his first point as a member of the Kootenay Ice and fans in Cranbrook have yet to see one of the newest additions take to the ice.
With a struggling Broncos squad, winless in 11 games, visiting town Saturday, Zaharichuk’s hope is for a strong debut at Western Financial Place.
“I’d like to be a top-six guy,” Zaharichuk said. “More of an offensive player and play to my strengths creating offense, being reliable in all zones of the ice.
“We need everybody playing and we need to play a full 60 minutes. We’ve put together some good periods, but other periods are kind of lacking. If we put together a full 60 [minutes] we’ll have a good chance.”
Zaharichuk and the Kootenay Ice host the Swift Current Broncos Saturday night (7 p.m.) at Western Financial Place.