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Kootenay hits the ice Thursday
by Jeff Bromley
Four months after an abrupt end to their season 60 hopefuls will hit the ice Thursday at the Rec Plex to begin the process all over again. Except this season the experience metre will definitely get a workout. Of the 22-man roster from the 2007- 08 season that bowed out to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in five games in the second round of the WHL Playoffs only 13 will likely return. 15, if you include the club’s eligible overage players but of those only three can suit up for the club come the October 1 deadline.
“We think we’re going to have a team in transition this year,” said Ice GM Jeff Chynoweth. “And when I say transition I mean it’ll be a younger group of players, with as many as 8-10, 16-17-year-olds.”
Who’s out? - The roster losses from last season are significant. Graduating from junior hockey was club captain and leading scorer Steve Da Silva and two of the their top four defensemen in Chad Greenan and Paul Kurceba. C Ben Maxwell has a year of eligibility left but as a signed prospect of the Montreal Canadiens the North Vancouver product will most certainly play in the NHL club’s farm system. Import Arnaud Jacquemet will play pro hockey in his native Switzerland this season. 18-year-old import defenseman Jiri Ryzuk was released following last season.
The 20-year-olds - Eligible 20-year-olds this season are G Kris Lazaruk, D Ian Barteaux, D Eric Frere, RW Andrew Bailey and D/F Zach Sim. Sim a role player with the club last season that was versitile in that he could play both forward and defense, will be in tough to compete for a spot as Lazaruk, Barteaux, Frere and Bailey are the likely competitors for the overage spots with Lazaruk another likely candidate for the trade route with the club’s young goaltenders - Thomas Heemskerk and Nathan Lieuwen looking for spots of their own.
Do the math and Kootenay will likely return 13 players from last year’s club, the least amount of experience in recent memory.
Who’s in? - Include Barteaux, Frere and Bailey as overagers, C Dustin Sylvester 19, the club’s second-leading scorer last season, will lead a smaller, inexperienced group of forwards. C Steele Boomer, 18, will be counted upon to improve his 11-goal, 19-assist season as a rookie last season while RW Michael Stickland, 19, C Tylan Stephens, 19, RW Josh Gionfriddo, 19, LW Kevin King, 18, LW Matt Fraser, 18 and LW Kris Foucault round out the experienced forwards. On the blueline D John Negrin, 19, is expected to lead the club in all areas on the backend. Barteaux, 20, Frere, 20, and Brayden McNabb, 17, fresh off his gold medal from the U-18 summer tournament will play as much as any top four in the league. In goal, with all due respect to the club’s playoff MVP from last spring, Kris Lazaruk will undoubtedly have to step aside in order for his understudy, Thomas Heemskerk and wonderkid Nathan Lieuwen, with his gold medal from the U-18 tournay as well, ready to take over. The goaltender storyline will be the biggest of the early season at Ice training camp, barring a shocker from Calgary if the NHL's Flames keep D John Negrin as a 19-year-old, as the club Flames’ GM Darryl Sutter alluded to earlier this summer.
Who’s new? - Who isn’t, might be a better question. The club will have two new imports: forwards Dominik Pacovsky, 18, and Alex Frieb, 19, both hailing from the Czech Republic. Sight unseen, both players are huge question marks. Forwards Drew Czerwonka, the club’s first round pick from 2007, Elgin Pearce and Max Reinhart are all expected to impress enough to earn a spot while three 17-year-olds, Forwards Jesse Ismond and Simon Skrudland and defenseman Hayden Rintoul should all press for spots. American defenseman Tyler Vanscourt, 16, forward Joe Antilla, who made last year’s squad as a 16-year-old, D Brad Ryan, 18, and Moose Jaw product Riley Gillies, also 18, are some names to remember come Labour Day cut-downs when the competition for roster spot heats up.
What to expect? - Be patient. This year’s edition of the Kootenay Ice will be among the youngest ever and thus the results will likely reflect that. Some early battles will be with the likes of forwards Joe Antilla, who was sent early home for displinary reasons (school issues) last season and Kris Foucault, who struggled somewhat to adjust to the pace of the WHL at times last season. On the blueline there's three spots wide open. D Brad Ryan from Calgary was good enough to make last season but his heart wasn't in it. Interesting to see where he fits this season, if at all. My picks? Rintoul, Ryan and Gillies, if they're here. An internet report out of Lloydminster stated that Gillies had signed a Junior A card with the AJHL's Bobcats, so he might be a no-show.
Physicals and weigh-ins go Wednesday, August 27 while both the rookies and the veterans will hit the ice Thursday before being broken into three squads and two ice sessions a day over the long weekend. The club’s annual Blue-White intra-squad game for the Cranbrook United Way goes Labour Day Monday.