Clouston’s club starting to take shape

By Jeff Bromley

You’ll have to excuse Cory Clouston for not wanting to reminisce. A Memorial Cup Championship just three months ago as an assistant coach with the Kootenay ICE is a great memory but for all intents and purposes, it might as well have been a lifetime ago.

Clouston is now the man directing a ship whose crew has undergone a partial refit, and it’s officers away at NHL camps or graduated to the higher ranks all together. His task is to guide the defending champs through the murky WHL waters filled with enemies, all hoping to sink the mighty S.S. Kootenay the first chance they get.

Three games into a four game exhibition set, Clouston is happy with the progress of his raw recruits but knows the club isn’t near where he wants them to be only one week short of the season-opening, double bill against the Cougars in Prince George.

“Nope, not yet,” said the first year head coach who’s entering his tenth year of coaching in the junior ranks. “We still have some pretty good hockey players out at NHL camps that time will tell when and if they’ll be back and that’s no different from any other WHL club.”

Preparing for the club’s final exhibition tilt Saturday in Kelowna against the Rockets, Clouston was frank coming off the club’s first preseason loss to Spokane last Wednesday. The rookie-laden club is still giving those freshman a long look for the eight or so spots up for grabs on a twenty-four-man regular season roster.

“The players that have been in camp have been excellent as far as their work ethic and what we’ve expected of them,” said Clouston. “We’re on pace to where we we’d thought we’d be. The wins and losses aren’t the most important thing but rather making sure we’re giving everybody an opportunity to showcase themselves and give the vets an opportunity to keep their spots.”

On center stage are three forwards, Adam Cracknell, 17, Riley Armstrong, 18, and Bill Vandermeer, 18, who have made the most of their ice-time through training camp. Surging at a goal a game clip, all three first-year players are making it very hard for Kootenay brass to make a decision on the trio. One, perhaps two, will more than likely make the grade. Question is, whether or not there’s room for all three on the roster.

“Time will tell,” said Clouston, “We still have one more game and I think it’s too early to say anything yet but all three of those guys have played very well and they’re definitely making an argument for themselves as far as keeping them.”

Come Monday morning the club’s player profile will have decreased by a count of five or six including three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. Depending on who’s returned from their respective pro camps, that number could be lower until prospective returnees are known.

“We probably looking at the Sunday after the game in Kelowna,” said Clouston. “We want to make sure we’re not making any rash decisions but it’s definitely becoming clearer as camp and these exhibition games have gone on. Guys are making it tough on us, that’s for sure.”

Quick Hits – The ‘curse’ of players making their respective NHL clubs that have drafted them before they were expected to won’t hit the Kootenay ICE again this season, at least not yet. Forward Tomas Plihal, drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 5th round (140th overall) in 2001, is currently in San Jose main camp and should be released and back in Cranbrook this weekend. There was talk of Plihal staying with the Sharks and then being sent to their AHL farm club in Cleveland. If signed, Plihal, 19, would be eligible to play with the Shark’s minor league affiliate because he was drafted out of Europe and therefore not subject to the CHL-NHL agreement on players under the age of 20 playing with either their NHL or junior clubs . . .

Last Wednesday’s announced attendance of 784 was the lowest attended game since the club moved to the 4268-seat Rec./Plex . . . Wednesday’s game saw the return of list player Ryan Morse to the club in an effort to crack the roster. The eighteen-yr-old, who stands 6’6″, missed most of training camp due to a bout of bronchitis.