The rebuilt Kootenay Ice of the BC Major Midget League (BCMML) turned some heads on the weekend with an impressive showing at the Pre-season Major Midget Tournament in Kelowna.
The newly-formed Ice went 3-1 in a 12-team tournament-style warm-up to the BCMML season, which opens Sept. 22.
“Going into this year, I feel like we’re a stronger group than last year, but that being said, you still have to come to the rink and work harder than the other team,” said Kootenay head coach Kris Boyce.
The Ice certainly did that on the weekend, skating to a 4-2 victory over the U18 Wenatchee Wild on Friday, a team made up primarily of 17-to 18-year-old skaters compared to the 15-to-17 aged Ice players.
“You can tell with those teams from the States they have a bit more size than us because they have those older kids,” said Boyce.
Kootenay then faced another US team, and beat the Everett Junior Silvertips 5-1, before skating to a 5-0 shut out of Kelowna’s Pursuit of Excellence Midgets Saturday afternoon.
Kootenay’s only loss came Sunday in a grudge match against the Thompson-Okanagan Blazers, a team Kootenay will play in their home opener on Oct. 7.
“It’s been a great rivalry for us,” said Boyce. “We lost by a goal, but I felt like the team should have won that game. We were in the penalty box for half the game or more – I guess we practiced our penalty kill.”
The Ice have a bye the opening week of the BCMML season, and play it’s first games against the Vancouver Canadians at the Major Midget Showcase in Richmond Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. All 11 teams in the BCMML will play in the Showcase, which allows junior and college scouts to assess emerging talent.
While Boyce, isn’t thrilled with an opening week bye, he says the extra week of practice can’t hurt.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing for us, but at the same time we have an extra week to work on some systems, and other things, so we’ll see how it goes.”
The team has just six returning players from last year’s squad, including defencemen Quaid Anderson and Kody Stewart, and forwards Simon Nemethy, Keenan Crossman, and Erik Delaire. In addition, the roster will feature last year’s affiliate players Jaxson Waterstreet, and Nathan and Marty Ingram playing full time for the Ice.
Kootenay will also see the return of goalie Jake Kemp who played lights out last season, particularly down the stretch when the Castlegar native won four-of-five games while posting a 3.06 average in February.
“With the six guys returning, they’re really quality guys,” said Boyce. “I think our core group this year is strong, and the guys we picked up from out of town for the showcase tournament are really strong as well. And with Kemper back, you have a goalie that’s proven to win games for you in this league so that’s a huge help for us.”
Completing the goaltending tandem alongside Kemp is towering six-foot-four goaltender Xavier Cannon from Kamloops. The 16-year-old played in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League for the West Van Academy last season, where he was selected by the Tri-City Americans in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. The Ice signed Cannon following the June Major Midget showcase in Vancouver, and Boyce says the two netminders will split time in the crease equally this year.
“We have two goalies that are going to play half the games. They need games to develop, and that’s what we are a developmental league so we play four lines, and two goalies … you want every guy on your team to play.”
The Ice will also add a couple more Yukon prospects to their roster in skilled forward Booker Daniel and defenceman Brett Walchuk, in addition to Houston Wild product Adam Pipe, who was impressive at the Trail Smoke Eaters and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks camps.
Last year’s Kootenay Ice had its best season in its decade-long history, making the playoffs for the first time with an 18-21-0-1 record. This year’s team looks to improve on that as they get set to open the season in two weeks in Richmond.
“I think we’re more skilled but you have to come with that mindset in this league to outwork the other team and we’ll win based off of that,” added Boyce. “Having the skill and two quality goalies that are able to keep us in every game, I think we’ll be just as successful as last season if not more.”