Pat’s G.M. bucking the trends
After the Regina Pats came away the victors after last Sunday’s tilt against the Kootenay ICE by a 3-1 margin, the first thought that occurred to me was that the club that sold its future in order to compete as hosts of the Memorial Cup last season had pulled a fast one. If this club sold the farm in order to be competitive, it appears that Pats might just have more than one farm lying around.
The Regina Pats supposedly sold their future and this year they were supposed to be ‘rebuilding’, which in hockey terms is a nice word for terrible. Apparently somebody forgot to relay that message to G.M. Brent Parker and his Pats. “Yeah,” laughed Parker. “I’m hearing that more and more lately. I mean, I can understand why people thought what was going to happen, would happen. But we had a lot of faith in our people and they’re proving a lot of people wrong.”
When the city of Regina was awarded the right to host the 2001 Memorial Cup some seventeen months before it was played, most agreed that the location chosen would be more than up to the task. As for the hockey club playing as the host entry however, that’s where concerns of the franchises’ competitiveness emerged. Coming off two consecutive sub-500 seasons but heading in the right direction, the question was would the Pats have developed enough to produce a club that would be more than a lame duck host.
By Christmas of 2000 that answer was becoming increasingly clear. The Pats were hovering around the .500 mark and struggling just to stay there. Most everyone new what was coming just weeks before the January 16, 2001 trading deadline – roster moves – and by the looks of the club’s fortunes, they would be significant. Surprising almost no one, those significant moves were made. Bringing in Tri-Cities high-scoring forward Blake Evans and rearguard Jeff Feniak and shoring up the front and back ends in a major deal with the Kamloops Blazers in obtaining Gable Gross, Paul Elliot, and Kyle Ladobruk along with obtaining Garnet Exelby from the Blades in an overhaul of the club’s defensive unit, the club indeed had a different look to it. The prices paid were though to be steep but for a shot at a national championship they were deemed worth it. Out of the depth of the Pats organization that was going the other way were two very highly touted defenseman in Paul Brown and Shaun Belle to the Blazers and Americans, respectively as well as Ryan Annesly joining Brown in Kamloops. Add overage d-man Shon Jones-Parry, Joey Bastien, Justin Lucyshyn and Scotty Balan to the three various deals and you start to realize the cost of being competitive.
“We had some depth there that maybe a lot of people didn’t realize and we felt that allowed us to be able to make some of these moves,” said the always animated Parker who almost wore a rut into the Cranbrook Rec/Plex press box carpet as he paced to the fortunes of his club on the ice. “I think our scouting staff of Todd Riplinger and his gang have done an outstanding job and it really allowed us to do some of things we did last year.”
Sporting an above .500 record that has the Pats on the heels of the Eastern Division front-running Brandon Wheat Kings, on this night it was one of those players of depth in the system who stymied the ICE attack over and over. Josh Harding, a seventeen-yr-old third round Bantam Draft pick in 1999 stood tall in the nets for the Pats in the win.
“Josh Harding is a kid we actually got as part of the Kyle Calder trade a few years ago when he went to Kamloops,” said Parker. “He was the third round pick that we got. You know that’s part of Junior Hockey, reloading, back and forth. Some of our other young guys like draft picks Yacboski (1985) and Chapman (85) have panned out well for us.”
Although you would always find him deflecting most of the credit for the success of the club, veteran WHL coach Bob Lowes, who was brought in after nine seasons in Brandon over the summer as a replacement to Lorne Molleken has been by all accounts key in keeping the vitality of the franchise at a high. “There’s some better players there than people give the club credit for,” said Lowes, echoing his G.M.’s sentiments. “If you look at it and people would’ve saw on paper what was coming back (from the trades), the young defense when I went in there right from day one of training camp, I was really impressed with what we had to work with.”
“We have two seventeen-yr-olds, three sixteen-yr-olds other than Novak and Feniak back there and I think that’s where people really thought our downfall would be. I think if anything they’ve done a great job.”
Lowes thinks that people who have written off the Pats are starting to realize that they may have jumped the gun somewhat. Wining the first three of four games on a monster twelve game road trip for the Pats has been key and could be a key turning point in the Pats’ season. “A lot of people thought the farm was sold but we’ve seen in the past if you can have some good young guys coming in and work hard you can achieve a lot,” said Lowes. “You don’t see those young guys before the year starts and you don’t know what guys have. But I think that a lot of people are impressed with our young ‘D’ and our goaltending.”
Quick Hits – The Pats are currently embroiled in a lease negotiation stalemate with their landlords at the Regina Agridome, the Regina Exhibition Association and it doesn’t look like a resolution is anywhere in sight. “No, unfortunately not. There’s not been much said,” said Pats G.M. Parker of the stalled talks. “We’re probably further apart than we’ve ever been and that’s unfortunate. They’re a very stubborn group to deal with and the greatest source of our aggravation in our operation, no question.”
Although there has been whispers of relocation bandied about, the possibility of moving the storied franchise is remote but a possibility nonetheless. There has been talk of the league stepping in to try and resolve the impasse but right now all is quiet on bargaining front.
“Right now we’ve told them we’re not coming back to the bargaining table until they resolve a couple of major issues on our part,” said Parker.