Dawes looks to finish strong with the Ice

By Aaron Vickers

He is carrying the weight of his team on his shoulders, quite a feat for someone who is only 5’8, 179lbs.

But it’s not as if it’s something that Kootenay Ice forward Nigel Dawes isn’t used to. Dawes, who is in his fourth season with the Ice, is currently leading his Kootenay squad in points for the third consecutive year, but according to the Winnipeg, Manitoba native, more importantly leading them into the Western Hockey League playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

“We just want to get better as a team,” explained Dawes after a recent tie against the Calgary Hitmen, which saw the Ice extend their undefeated streak in 2005 to 22 games. “I’ve never really been one to set personal goals for myself.”

Although this season may not be as productive for Dawes, who has scored 47 and 42 goals respectively during his previous two seasons, the left winger has gone about improving his game without sacrificing much of what he’s known for.

“I’ve just wanted to improve my game all around,” admitted Dawes. “I’ve improved my defensive play this year. It’s not happening as quick as I want it to, but it is happening bit by bit.”

Dawes’ defensive awareness was something he was asked to improve during the New York Rangers Development Camp, held at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta in August.

“I think (defense), and as a whole, myself,” said Dawes, of what he needs to work on. “I have to improve my game to move on to the next level.”

Without overlooking the remainder of the 2004-05 Western Hockey League season, Dawes is envisioning embarking on his professional career. With a contract from the New York Rangers already in hand, the former fifth round WHL Bantam Draft selection gem of the Kootenay Ice is hoping to become another fifth round NHL Entry Draft steal for the New York Rangers.

With his hopes set on the National Hockey League, Dawes still has plenty of developing to do, something he realizes he can achieve with the Rangers’ AHL Affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack.

“I’m hoping to play in Hartford,” said Dawes, of his 2005-06 hockey season.

“If they settle something,” paused Dawes with a little glimmer in his eye. “Hopefully I might get a shot with the Rangers. It’s a younger team and something I’m looking forward to.”

Dawes, who has eclipsed the 40 goal mark for three consecutive seasons in the Western Hockey League, feels he can bring a lot of things to the Rangers organization, but most importantly, offensive punch.

“I know I can score,” proclaimed the Ice captain confidently. “It’s just going to come down to me being able to bury the puck when it comes to me.”

Given the offensive potential contained in Dawes, the New York Rangers appear poised to give the undersized but gritty forward an opportunity to contribute on a regular basis. An opportunity is all Dawes needs.

“There’s definitely going to be a lot of opportunities there and I’ve got to take advantage of them.”

Dawes did take advantage during the 2005 World Junior Championships with Team Canada. After falling short to the Americans in the 2004 World Junior Championships in which Dawes lead all scorers with six goals and 11 points, retribution would come to he and the Canadians against the Russians, marking Canada’s first gold medal since 1997.

Dawes with two goals and six points in the tournament this year, offered his take on the celebration.

“There was a lot of bitter taste in it (last year) and we just wanted to go out and finish the job that we couldn’t finish the year before,” said Dawes of the disappointment in 2004.

“(Winning) was just awesome,” he smiled. “We did just that and we played so well just as a team. It was so much fun and it was just great to play with guys like that. You always want to bring the gold back to Canada, and we never made any mistakes doing it. It was our goal from day one and we accomplished that.”

Kootenay Ice Head Coach Cory Clouston is hoping that both Dawes and teammate Jeff Glass, who backstopped Canada to the gold medal, can take the experience and translate it to the Western Hockey League playoffs.

“Obviously what a great experience to be in a pressure cooker like that in the national spotlight and the world spotlight,” began Clouston. “Those are the things that are invaluable, those types of experiences.”

Clouston hopes Dawes can help lead his team back to not only a Western Hockey League Championship, but also a Memorial Cup Championship, something Dawes hasn’t seen in Kootenay since his rookie season in 2001-02.

It would certainly be a fitting way to end a storybook junior career.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.