Something to prove is the buzz about the Kootenay Ice going into this season. With 19 returning players, there are not a lot of openings for these up and coming players to fill. After a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Calgary Hitmen in the first round of playoffs last year, the Ice are coming back with a vengeance and it has every one thinking that this might be the year.
Among the 19 returning players are four 20 year olds who are fighting tooth and nail for the 3 over-age roster spots. First is defenseman Scott Roles. Quick with the puck and able to finish the play, Scott has had a strong exhibition series. In the final game of exhibition, played against the Kelowna Rockets, Scott had 2 assists. Next is Wade Burt. One of many wingers, could he be the one who goes? Small in stature, but a strong skater and a good puck handler, Wade makes for a great third or fourth line player. Then there is centerman Mike Green who is battling a pre-season knee injury. Playing in the last exhibition game, Mike scored the third goal of the game. No sign of injury was apparent, but it is in the back of our minds. Graham Belak is the last of the over-agers. Having a strong physical presence on the ice is definitely Graham’s forte. Any one who knows me (Sara) knows that he is by far my favorite player, so I pray that he is not the one to get cut. Graham came back to the Ice midway through exhibition play after coming very close to signing a contract with an unnamed NHL team. However, Graham was not given medical clearance due to being concussion-prone. During the 98-99 Colorado Avalanche training camp, Graham suffered a concussion and was out for the beginning of the WHL season. NHL medical officials require Graham to go six months concussion free before being cleared. This is a definite bonus for the Ice. A big and strong player, Graham is good for a fight every other game or so. The Ice have until November 1st to cut or trade one of these players, but may dress only three for regular season play until then.
In the 99 draft, two out of four Ice players were drafted. Steve McCarthy was a first round pick (23rd overall) for the Chicago Blackhawks. While at the present time he remains at their training camp, it has been said that he will be returning soon, most likely in time for the season opener. Steve is an offensive defenseman who handles the puck well and reads the plays exceptionally. Steve has been criticized for not being a strong skater, but we don’t necessarily agree with that. Not always a physical player, he can hold his own and is known to throw a few hits every now and again. Steve is the Ice’s team captain and shows extraordinary leadership skills. While injuries forced Steve to miss a few games last year, he was truly a sight to see and we look forward to seeing him play again this year. The other player to be drafted was Kyle Wanvig. Kyle is a winger and like Steve, was projected to go first round in the 99 draft. A slower second half of the season caused Kyle to fall lower in the draft before being picked up in the 3rd round (73rd overall) by the Boston Bruins. Kyle attended their training camp but returned midway through exhibition play. Kyle has played strong games so far and it is plain to see that this will be his year to shine. Boston would like to see Kyle put up more numbers and play a more physical game and that is exactly what he is doing so far. What should also be mentioned here is that both Steve and Kyle appeared in the 1999 Top Prospects Game. While wingers Jason Jaffray and Brad Tutschek were not picked up in the draft, it is not because they don’t play a good game. Perhaps we will see them re-enter the draft this year.
The 00 draft could see a few more Ice faces. There are 3 returning players that are draft eligible this year. Defenseman Trevor Johnson and winger Colin Sinclair as well as center Jarret Stoll. Some have said that Jarret is the next Gretzky and this will be the year for him to show his stuff. He started off strong last season but then tapered off later on in the season. Jarret played for Saskatchewan last year for the Canada Winter Games and then went to CZR for Canada’s Under 18 tournament where he was named MVP for two games and came home a gold medallist. In the final game of this competition, he sustained a wrist injury and missed all but the last game of exhibition play where he started to shine. Watching him in his first game, it was great to see him start off with a hat trick. A must-watch player this year. We project him to go first round in the 00 draft.
The remaining veterans are as follows: Dean Arsene (D), Jesse Ferguson (D), Dion Lassu (D), Nick Marach (W), Tyler Beechey (W), Jeremy Yablonski (W) and Jaroslav Svoboda (W). An honorable mention here would be the return of Jeremy Yablonski who was injured last season and suffered a concussion while watching a game. Jeremy was standing at the glass watching a game when a puck came over the glass and hit Jeremy in the head. It was a severe injury forcing him to miss the remainder of the season and many thought that it was career ending. Great to see him back. One more necessary mention here is that Jaroslav Svoboda is our only import player this year barring a trade. Stanislav Gron aged out last year and signed a contract with the Utah Grizzlies. Ice draft pick Petr Zajgla chose to sign with a home country team leaving Jaroslav as our only European player this year. Tyler Beechey played a significant role when the Ice went through an injury spell last season and played extremely well during the playoffs before getting a concussion in game 6. Tyler had two assists in the 5-0 win over Kelowna on Sunday and should put up some good numbers this year.
With Clayton Pool aging out, what was going to happen in the net this year? With seven trying out for the 2 spots between the posts, the Ice narrowed down their choices early. Making the roster this year are B.J. Boxma, 18 and Dan Blackburn, 16. B.J. returns to the line-up after missing most of last year due to mononucleosis. While B.J. was out, the Ice brought up Brian Dafoe to back-up Clayton Pool. When Pool went down with an injury and Dafoe entered the net, Blackburn was brought up out of bantam to fill the back-up position. Neither player is a stranger to the Ice franchise or the funny little quirks and bounces of the “Silverdome.” Both goaltenders have recorded shutouts in pre-season play. Boxma shut out Kelowna in a 5-0 decision on Sept. 18, and Blackburn shut out our rivals, the Calgary Hitmen on Sept. 14 with a 3-0 decision.
So with these 20 players on the roster, what’s going to happen with the other 4 openings? Vying for these spots are defenseman Jordan Wallin, 16, Chris Chubb, 19, and Taylor Donahoe, 17. With six defenseman returning, the fight is on for that possible seventh-man position. Our pick is Chris Chubb. Chris is a strong skater and a great in-front-of-the-net defenseman. Not a stranger to dropping the gloves, he has a physical presence that is appreciated in this league. Next are wingers Tyler Dyck, 16, Pat Iannone, 17, and Richard Hamula, 17. While both Dyck and Hamula dressed for the Ice last year during the injury infection, our pick would have to be Iannone. An exceptional skater and playmaker, this is what the Ice need to complete a second or third line. Rounding out the last of the remaining try-outs is center Charlie Mattersdorfer. Charlie has played in the league already. A season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and an invite to Spokane’s camp, Charlie is a veteran of WHL play. While he has spent most of his time with the Fernie Ghostriders of the American West Hockey League (formerly of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League) this is a player we would like to watch for a season or two. A small guy, he makes his presence known with the speed of his skating, ability to maneuver and his ability to carry the puck from one end to the other in the blink of an eye.
So when all is said and done and the roster is reduced, this is the year of the Ice. An all-around strong team with something to prove, this is a team to keep your eye on this year.
NEWS AND NOTES
The Ice begin their season this Friday with a home and home series with the Red Deer Rebels. Watch for updates on these two games early next week as well as in-depth player profiles.