Icemen head coach Gregory planning for next season
by: Dale Cory
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Gregory set to return with Icemen
When the playoffs finish ... the real work begins for junior hockey coaches across Canada.
Its a common belief that the off, season is the most, important part of the year.
Due diligence with regard to finding talented hockey players will reap benefits when the ice goes back into arenas.
Surprise playoff run
It also helps when you surprise people with a successful playoff run.
I am hoping the season we had last year will get us more players at camp, said Icemen head coach Rick Gregory, who will spend the spring and summer watching as many hockey games as he can. Its funny how word travels fast, especially amongst players. There is kind of an urban legend now about the Wetaskiwin Icemen that may or may not be true. A thousand fans, good practice times, and a good organization. And what they say they are going to do, they do. It was big for us last year to gain credibility with the players, because they go tell their friends and word travels fast around the league.
Gregory, who will enter his second season behind the bench when the Capital Junior Hockey League kicks off another season in fall, was in Vancouver last week, guiding a midget division team in the 19th annual AAA Challenge Cup tournament.
With 650 games scheduled over a three, and, a, half day period, Gregory was sure to get his fill of hockey.
While he has some holes to fill with regard to the Icemen team that will take to the ice for the 2011, 12 season, Gregory has confirmed a core group of returning veterans.
During his address to the membership at the Icemen annual general meeting May 13, Gregory went through his player list, and answered the burning question on the mind of Wetaskiwin hockey fans, who will be back in uniform next season, and who will not be.
Icemen graduate three players
To begin with, three players, captain and defenceman Cam Dyck, forward KC Lorentz and goaltender Marcus Johnson, who played a major role in the Icemen advancing to the second round of the playoffs, have all graduated from the team.
There are some holes to fill because of graduation. One of those would be goaltending, because you have to replace half your goaltenders, so that becomes a priority, said Gregory. Quinton Bell will be returning in net, and will look to man that job unless somebody can take him out. Quinton showed last year that he has the ability to step up and play that role. The other two are 21, year, olds from Wetaskiwin, great guys who put a lot of heart and soul into this team, and left on a high note.
The Icemen will lose a few players who have decided to pursue their education in fall.
Ty Ronneberg is headed to Mount Royal University and Dusty Villeneuve will attend the police academy in Lethbridge.
Brad Hoult, who is eligible to return as a 21, year, old next year, is expected to finish his schooling, and is unlikely to suit up with the Icemen.
Craig Cobbett is also not expected back.
Bennefield unlikely to return
Wetaskiwin, born Riley Bennefield, who tied for the teams scoring lead, and for the MVP award, is not expected back. Bennefield totaled 29 points in 26 league games, and was the lone Icemen player to earn more than a point, a, game.
Although Gregory would love to have back a speedy forward, he realizes that Bennefield, whose Western Hockey Leagues (WHL) rights were traded from Lethbridge to Portland near the end of the season, has a bright future ahead.
I imagine Ryley will be playing at a higher level next year, and if hes not playing at a higher level, hell end up back here, said Gregory. I think his goals are set high on Portland, and from there, I would imagine Junior A. Hes got lots of options, and I do not really have him penciled in at this point, because I am hoping hell stick in Portland.
Icemen expect veteran blueline group
As for those players coming back, all indications are there will be a strong contingent of Wetaskiwin products in an Icemen uniform next season.
Zach Pezderic will be a big player for us back on the blueline. He will be a 21, year, old. He was one of our captains last year, and we will look to him to anchor the blueline, said Gregory. We have also got three other local boys, Steven Walker, Corey Bowie and Brandon Wark. Those are our four returning defencemen. Steven, Corey and Brandon are all going to be 19 year olds, so they are still young. We are kind of growing as a group there.
Gregory will return three of his top four scoring forwards, with Brian MacDonald (10 goals, 29 points), Travis Gano (13 goals, 26 points), Michael MacDonald (11 goals, 22 points) and Jordan Howe (seven goals, 19 points) all expected back in uniform.
Brian, Michael and Jordan are local kids returning. Theyre all top, six players from last year, and well look to good things from them, said Gregory.
Local players, such as Dylan Weaver, Devon Buffalo, Michael White and Dallas Graham will all be given a shot if they choose to attend Wetaskiwins training camp.
Last year, I was almost looking for 20 players. I did not know what I had, and if guys wanted to come back. This year, its nice to know you are just looking to fill certain roles on the team, said Gregory. We have got our eyes on a few players. Its all out there until they set foot in Wetaskiwin, and once they get here, I think were got em. My policy is, Ive got to get them in the rink, and once theyre here, I think theyll see the kind of program were offering.