Ben Maxwell brings loads of tenacity to the Kootenay Ice, a quality the entire club will have to bring to the rink to knock off the defending WHL champion Kelowna Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
And true to form, the teams split the first two games. Kootenay escaped game one with a 3-2 win in double overtime, thanks to a 41-save performance by goaltender Taylor Dakers (SJ). Kelowna bounced back with a 5-1 drubbing in the second game, pumping another 53 shots at the Kootenay goal.
For Maxwell, his two-point performance in game one included an assist on the game winner, a power-play tally less than a minute into the second overtime period. The North Vancouver native has become a reliable offensive contributor in his two seasons with the Ice.
“He’s got great talent and great speed,” said Ice captain Adam Cracknell (CGY). “It’s been awesome playing on a line with him. He’s got good hockey smarts and a great shot. I think he’s got a great future ahead of himself.
“It’s been good to know I’ve been able to help him a bit throughout the last couple of years,” Cracknell continued. “I’ve been trying to help him on and off the ice when I can. He handles himself very well and it’s going to be exciting to see what happens in the future. It’s been a good opportunity for me to have been able to help a younger guy out.”
And Maxwell, who played for Team Cherry in the 2006 Top Prospects game, appreciates the opportunity to line up with Cracknell.
“He’s had a huge impact,” Maxwell said when asked about playing with the 20-year-old Cracknell. “I actually played with him for two years now. He’s a guy who really leads the way for us. He’s such a vocal guy, a good leader.”
Maxwell was chosen second overall by Kootenay in the 2003 Bantam Draft. Last season, as a WHL rookie, Maxwell played in 68 games, posting eight goals and 10 assists. The numbers are hardly awe-inspiring. But what a difference a year makes.
This season, Maxwell responded to a broadened role with the Ice, scoring 28 goals and 32 assists in 69 games.
“We were never really concerned about his offensive output because he’s a very talented player,” said Ice head coach Cory Clouston. “About halfway through the season, he really hit kind of a low point, but in the last three weeks he’s really got his game back on track and I think he’s really battled.
“His play without the puck is what I think has really improved lately,” Clouston continued. “He’s been very responsible defensively for us and he’s played with more of an edge. That’s something he really has to do more consistently. Offensively, he’s very gifted. Good speed, good hands, and I think what’s starting to click for him is his play away from the puck.”
Maxwell, who will celebrate his 18th birthday on Mar. 30, agreed with his coach.
“I feel like I’m being asked to play a bigger role here,” Maxwell said. “ I’ve been getting more ice time. I really feel it’s important to work hard for the team. I’m glad we’re going well heading into the playoffs.”
Clouston sees Maxwell as a key player in the match up against Kelowna.
“We’ve mixed things up, Ben’s played with (Adam) Cracknell quite a bit,” Clouston offered. “Depending on who we’re playing, whether it’s a road game or at home, it kind of varies who else he might play with. But you know, he’s a key guy for us because when you play a team like Kelowna with three good lines, Ben will be matched up with somebody who has a real good physical presence.
“Ben is a guy who will makes things difficult for opponents. He generally responds quite well in the physical department.”
Maxwell, who at 6’0 weighs in at 175 pounds, recognizes his strengths and weaknesses. He is determined to become a complete player.
“I key on playing well defensively and also physically,” he said. “I have to keep up my intensity up. I feel like I have to continue to improve in all areas, but those are definitely keys for me.”
The NHL’s Central Scouting slotted Maxwell in at No. 42 among domestic players in the annual mid-term rankings.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.