Familiar faces get set to move on

By Jeff Bromley

If there’s ever a good time to do the usually somber departure meetings WHL clubs hold at the end of the team’s season, just days after a Memorial Cup championship is one of those times. For most of the players it signifies a beginning of summer, going home to families, starting workout regimens and perfecting areas of their game that need improving. For a short list of others though, these departure meetings will be held with team staff for the last time. They are the twenty-yr-olds and have played their final games of junior hockey, the wide-open opportunities and uncertainties of the world await them.

From a world that rarely guarantees anything, three members of the Kootenay ICE will not be back next season.

Overage defensemen Cole Fischer and Craig Weller and popular puck-stopper B.J. Boxma have officially graduated from the WHL and must now look ahead to the adult world. While their futures might not immediately compel pro careers, the game of hockey is definitely in their plans. “The first thing I’m going to do is explore the hockey (options) and see what opportunities I can get through that,” offered Fischer who’s a free agent. “If not I’ll probably end up going to school. This week and the next couple weeks are going to decide what I’m going to do next year. I’m going to talk to my agent and see what he’s done over the past couple of weeks but right now I’m not too sure of my options but I’m going to talk to some people this week and see what happens. Right now I’m just going to relax.”

Adding an extra two months onto the season with the Memorial Cup run for the likes of Fischer, Weller and Boxma has its advantages. Especially with the team’s success and the national exposure that’s attached to it is something that’ll do wonders for a player with pro aspirations.

“The playoff run we had, we played real well and I actually scored a few goals at this year’s Memorial Cup. I think I did all I could for helping myself out and all the guys around me helped me out tremendously too. All 23 guys we had on the team, we’re a close-knit bunch and I think when you get that it brings out the best in everybody and this year’s playoffs were one of the better ones. I think I helped myself out as much as I could and now we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Weller, a 2000 5th round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, awaits the possibility of a contract offer from the NHL club. With the June 1 deadline for signing looming, Weller said that the talk between his agent and the NHL club is heating up. “I’ve talked to my agents and I talked to (St. Louis) a couple times today and they said they’re trying to get things moving a little bit more quickly to figure out what’s going to happen in the next couple of days,” said Weller. Like a lot of his teammates, signing his John Henry was the order of the day on collectibles such as sticks, jerseys and pucks. The towering d-man had a bench constructed solely from hockey sticks made by his billet family. It was to be signed by the championship club as a keepsake and memento of Weller’s time in Cranbrook.

“We’ve talked to St.Louis and their manager John Ferguson Jr. at length and they’re still holding their cards close to their chest. I don’t know if they’re waiting for some scouting reports still or not but we’ll just see what happens. If not there’s still 29 other (NHL) teams so we’ll see what happens.”

For the man between the pipes, B.J. Boxma has been finally given his due as a championship goaltender in the WHL. Now the summer awaits and after that the hopeful opportunity for a pro career. Boxma has been contacted by a pro club out of Holland about playing there as Boxma has duel citizenship. But after a taste of North American pro life last season with an invite to the NHL’s Minnesota Wild camp, Boxma still hopes to ply his trade on this side of the pond. “I’m not really too sure right now,” said Boxma. “I’ve had an offer to play in Holland next year but I’m kind of hoping an NHL team will give me a tryout and maybe even a contract. It’s hard to say right now and I haven’t even spoke to my agent about it but we’ll talk about this week and hopefully some opportunities will come about.”

Like his blueline counterparts, Boxma knows the long playoff run did nothing but help his chances for a pro offer. For the summer however the former native of Edson, Alta. will take up residence in a condo at the Kimberley Ski Resort. “I hope it helps me a lot,” said Boxma. “Maybe not after the regular season, I don’t know if scouts were really keen on me but now after the playoff run and Memorial Cup it might open some more doors and a chance to prove that I can play at the next level.

“I’ve got a place up in Kimberley at the ski hill. I’m just going to relax and maybe get a job for the summer. I going to relax, have fun and enjoy my youth before I get too old; I turn 21 on Saturday and that’s pretty old for me.”