It is perhaps the toughest job in hockey. Inviting a young talent to the camp of the defending Memorial Cup Champions and then, after six days of evaluation, observation and examination, telling that young prospect that he’s just not quite good enough. At least not yet. That, in a nutshell, is the job of Kootenay ICE Assistant G.M. and Director of Player Personnel Roy Stasiuk and after week one of Kootenay ICE training camp 2002, over sixty players were pared down to just twenty-five.
Stasiuk’s assessment of talent over the weekend showed him no real surprises. There were stand-outs among the skaters vying for a job with the Major Junior squad, 17-yr-old defensemen Jerris Paul and Derek Price, 16, forwards Jeff MacGregor 17, Jeremy Schenderling, 16, and in particular, Adam Cracknell, 17, but perhaps a better sign of Kootenay’s development of talent, there were no disappointments either.
“We had a very small camp, so there weren’t really any surprises because we were very familiar with who was coming in,” said Assistant G.M. and Head Scout Roy Stasiuk. “One of the pleasant surprises was Adam Cracknell as we weren’t sure how he would perform. He had a great camp.”
Cracknell was listed in mid-February out of the Vancouver Island Junior ‘B’ Hockey League’s (VIJHL) Saanich Braves. Best friends with Victoria native Bryan Bridges’ brother, Stasiuk received a phone call from Gord Bridges, Bryan’s father and coach of the Saanich Braves, suggesting that the club give Cracknell some consideration. Originally from Prince Albert, Cracknell had been on Stasiuk’s radar screen but then moved to Victoria where he had developed enough to earn a list spot in February and survive the club’s first round of cuts after Kootenay’s annual charity Blue-White game which raised $2200 for the United Way last Monday.
“He was one of the nice surprises but there were certainly no disappointments among our list players,” said Stasiuk.
This season the club will only carry two sixteen-yr-old players, Jeremy Schenderling (1st Round, 18th overall – 2001 Bantam Draft) and Jerris Paul (7th Round, 132nd overall 2001 Bantam Draft), where the club carried three sixteen-yr-olds last season in Nigel Dawes, Bryan Bridges and Dale Mahovsky. Stasiuk says that rather than there being a quota of first year players on the club for simple development reasons, it’s a question of the players’ ability to make the jump to the WHL.
“It’s a combination of things,” said Stasiuk. “We don’t go in with a set number in mind but certainly some of the sixteen-yr-olds like Mike Boxma and Mark Wilson on the back end were very close (to making the club) but the important part is that they’re in a place where they are going to develop and continue to develop. Jerris (Paul) and Jeremy (Schenderling) can certainly keep up the pace here and we think this is a good situation for them to develop. The other players maybe wouldn’t get into the lineup enough to help their cause so certainly we wanted them to go back to their programs and play quite a bit.”
Identifying a trend that some clubs in the WHL are implementing, condensed, combined and compact training camps are en vogue. Extending invitations to sixty, mainly list and roster players instead of over one hundred players from all points on the compass has streamlined the process of recognizing talent. Beholding the club’s success over the past three seasons and one suspects other WHL club’s might soon realize Kootenay’s onto something.
“I think it’s an excellent format,” said Stasiuk of the trend to smaller, more focused camps. “You’re not bringing kids in with any false hopes. Parents have to spend money and travel and all those things. It adds up and if there’s not a chance (for the player to make the club), it’s really not worth it. The other benefit we found is that because it was small and mainly our list players, it was very intense, very competitive and I think we got a truer evaluation of training camp.”
And the chances of missing a so-called ‘Diamond-in-the-rough’ a club might find with a bigger training camp roster? In this day and age of the club’s extensive scouting staff, that’s not very likely.
“You always can,” said Stasiuk of missing a talent. “But we have a scouting staff in place and over the course of the year is when we want to identify some of the players. If a diamond-in-the-rough shows up in camp it means that we’ve seen him at some point but then I would question the scouting staff as to why we didn’t get more information or somebody going to bat for him for me to come out and see him. With the Bantam Draft and so many players (being scouted and selected) that there’s fewer and fewer diamonds-in-the-rough.”
“If your camp is too big, it starts to get watered down and I think that’s not fair to the elite athlete. If you looked at some of the younger guys that moved up to the older group, they actually played better as the skill level was better, the support of the passes and the skating was better. If you water it down it’s a disadvantage for the really good athletes, who may even be looked over in that camp.”
Camp Comments – The next round of cuts will occur by September 16 with five more players’ fate to be decided upon… The fourth annual Blue-White game went Labor Day Monday with Team White getting by Team Blue 6-2 on the strength of a Nigel Dawes’ Hat-Trick. 15-yr-old Ryan Russell potted four assists . . . The best player in camp so far has been the aforementioned Dawes followed closely by Bill Vandermeer, Riley Armstrong and Kyle Sheen . . . With 16-yr-old Taylor Dakers being released this week the battle for the backup job to Bryan Bridges now rests between Jeff Glass and Chris LaValley. LaValley, 19, has had a tremendous camp and put on a clinic in his half game appearance in the Blue-White game Monday . . . Shannon Szabados, the WHL’s first female to play exhibition, played half a game with the Tri-City Americans against the Vancouver Giants Wednesday night in Ladner, B.C. The 16-yr-old Edmonton native is a three-way fight for the backup job to starter Tyler Weiman . . . Kootenay opens their exhibition season tonight (Friday) at the Rec./Plex against the Calgary Hitmen at 7:00pm.
The following is a list of players released Monday: Defensemen: Mark Wilson, 16, Kamloops, B.C.; Scott Kalinchuk, 17, Fort St. John, B.C.; Josh Fauth, 16, Medicine Hat, Alta.
Forwards: James Perkin, 15, Calgary, Alta.; Riley Jones, 16, Medicine Hat, Alta.; Ryan Issel, 16, Regina, Sask.; Ryan Russell, 15, Caroline, Alta.; Wayne Bass, 15, Mafeking, MB. ; Adam Bunz, 16, Cochrane, Alta.; Mike Boxma, 16, Edson, Alta.
Goalies: Taylor Dakers, 16, Langley, B.C.; Kevin Dziaduck (pronounced SHA-Duck), 17, Buchanan, Sask.