The Kootenay ICE are gearing up for their final weekend of the WHL pre-season as management continues to trim the roster and looking for players to step up and fill roles on the team.
Set to play back-to-back games Friday and Saturday against the Calgary Hitmen, the ICE effectively have their first home pre-season game on Friday in Invermere at Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena. Dropping the puck at 7:00 pm, the ICE and Hitmen will then head to Calgary's Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday for both team's pre-season finale.
Already travelling to Red Deer, AB and Kennewick, WA for two pre-season tournaments, James Patrick said it will be nice being able to play in a local community this weekend.
"Both trips have been six hours, six hours plus, so it will be nice to have an hour bus ride and have some home fans," said the Kootenay ICE Head Coach. "Hopefully it's a decent turnout, bring some Kootenay ICE entertainment up to Invermere."
While both games will serve as a tune up for their regular season home opener against the Calgary Hitmen at Western Financial Place on Saturday, September 22nd, Patrick said a lot of roster spots still remain up for grabs.
In the latest batch of roster cuts, the ICE reassigned overage netminder Matt Berlin along with defenceman Anson McMaster and forward James Form, both selections of the ICE in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. The recent moves leave the ICE with 29 active players on the roster including four overage players and three European imports.
Cutting their first overage player in Matt Berlin, the ICE are now only carrying two netminders - veteran Duncan McGovern and rookie Jesse Makaj - both appearing to be Kootenay's goaltending tandem heading into the regular season.
"Matt Berlin gave us everything, gave us leadership," praised Patrick. "He came in last year and gave us real solid play, his teammates loved him, so it was a hard thing to have to let him go but being a 20-year-old and us having five 20-year-olds here it was just a real tough decision."
Patrick told Summit 107 that all three goaltenders entered Training Camp in excellent shape, noting that McGovern and Berlin were two of the top three conditioned veterans coming out of fitness testing besides Peyton Krebs.
Playing just one game with the ICE last season, Jesse Makaj finds himself on the roster for now as a 17-year-old goaltender, a similar situation last season with now 18-year-old Duncan McGovern.
"Jesse has definitely emerged, he's shown so far that he can definitely play in this league, Duncan proved that last year and I expect Duncan to be better," said Patrick. "I expect Duncan to keep striving to get better, he played well for us but for us to be successful our goaltending needs to even be better and I think both those guys will show that."
McGovern recently attended the Winnipeg Jets Development Camp as well as the Jets' Rookie Camp in Penticton. Patrick feels the experience at the NHL level will only elevate McGovern's game that much further, being able to play at a faster place and with higher skilled players at the NHL Camps.
Although Patrick praised the goaltenders and their performance so far, he also noted the play of Peyton Krebs and Cam Hausinger, specifically pointing out Krebs' unique talent.
"I've been around few athletes with a desire to be better than him and so that rubs off on the rest of our group. I think Cam Hausinger has come wanting to build off last year and be more of a leader so those two guys have stood out for me."
While Patrick, Matt Cockell and the rest of the Kootenay ICE staff start to narrow down the roster for opening night, competition is still wide open, specifically for the middle-aged players.
"We need someone from our 18-year-old group to emerge," said Patrick. "Someone from that group has to step up and grab a bigger role."
Patrick mentioned names like Keenan and Kaeden Taphorn, Brad Ginnell, Loeden Schaufler, Sebastian Streu, and even 17-year-old Cole Muir all needing to step up and earn the right to play a larger role with the team this season.
"Keenan last year played a lot of Top 6 for us, he was kind of the worker, the grunt guy who would play with skill and I expect the same from him but the rest of those guys, I'm still waiting to see," added Patrick. "Can someone from that group emerge and say hey I'm going to lock down this role and be the guy? For us to be successful, we need more from that group."
The 18-year-olds and the rest of the players vying for a spot on the Kootenay ICE roster will have one last chance this weekend with the team's set of games against the Calgary Hitmen.
In Invermere on Friday, the ICE and Hitmen drop the puck at Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena at 7:00 pm before both teams matchup up again at 7:00 pm on Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
Here's a look at the 29 players (17 forwards, 10 defenceman, and 2 goalies) still on the roster entering the final weekend of the pre-season: Kootenay ICE 2018/19 Active Roster
- Bradley Jones
Audio: James Patrick, Kootenay ICE Head Coach