by: Dale Cory
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Icemen ready to hit the ice in style
Wetaskiwin to debut third jerseys in CJHL home opener Sunday against Beaumont
It is going to be a big rivalry weekend for us boys, stressed Wetaskiwin Icemen head coach Rick Gregory while addressing his players at the start of Mondays practice. Friday in Leduc and Sunday against Beaumont here in front of our fans.
Indeed, the Capital Junior Hockey League schedule-makers certainly knew what they were doing when they planned out the 2011-12 season, which officially got underway this past Friday and continues until Feb. 12. The leagues 14 teams will play 266 games during that time, with each team playing a 38-game schedule.
The Icemen will open the season Friday in Leduc at 7:45 p.m. at the Leduc Recreation Centre, and will host their home opener at the Wetaskiwin Civic Centre Sunday at 6:45 p.m.
It will be a big night for the Icemen, who will unveil third jerseys to commemorate their 20th season in the Capital Junior Hockey League.
Considering Wetaskiwin has developed a heated rivalry with the Schwab Riggers, and took the defending league champion Chiefs to overtime in a fifth and deciding game in last years quarterfinal playoff series, weekend games are sure to provide a great deal of entertainment for local hockey fans.
It was the first time in five years that the Icemen qualified for the playoffs. The 30-point improvement should have garnered head coach Rick Gregory the coach of the year honours.
That did not happen. However, considering last seasons success on the ice and at the gate, Gregory is more concerned with leading his team deeper into the playoffs, and challenging for a league championship, something the Icemen would not have thought possible a couple of seasons ago.
This year we have a nice mix of new and old. We have brought in several first year rookies, however, we have also brought in some valuable experience as well, including two players that have won junior B Western Canadian titles in the last two years, Corey Dupre in 2010 with the Tri-Town Thunder and Kevin Liner in 2011 with Blackfalds, said Gregory, who will also count on leadership from returning veterans. On the leadership side of things, we have several 21 year olds that will lead the way in that regard, such as Zack Pezderic, Michael MacDonald, Travis Gano and Mick Bronson.
That said, I've noticed that all returning players have taken some ownership over certain aspects of the team and we're trying to create an environment where its leadership by committee. The core of our team is our crop of '92s and they will be relied upon to lead by example both on and off the ice as well.
Gregory had 24 players at camp Monday, including three goaltenders. Veteran Brandon Wark is injured and did not participate in the workout.
We have lost our two top scorers from last year in Ryley Bennefield, who is still with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, and Brian MacDonald, who is with NAIT of the ACAC. That said, incoming rookie Dylan Weaver coming to us from Midget AAA in Leduc should offer some help offensively as well as an incoming 20 year old, DJ Bennefield (Ryley's older brother). DJ scored eight goals in the three games last weekend and we're confident that trend will continue into the season. We also return our entire top line from last year with Gano, MacDonald and Michael Chorneyko, so we're hoping they'll continue where they left off, said Gregory, who does have some question marks heading into the season. Goaltending is a bit of wildcard right now. Losing Marcus Johnson means we have an open spot to fill and a big role at that. Quinton Bell is returning between the pipes and is presently battling it out with three other goalies to take the net. Ryan Fairgray, Michael Gudmandson and Garrett Montour are all in the running to snatch up one the goaltending positions.
While Gregory is blessed with 10 returning players, he also has a group of experienced veterans who have joined the Icemen from other teams, and also some young rookies who are expected to make an impact in the CJHL in their first season.
Incoming players that will make the most impact include Kevin Liner, who played parts of last season on the Olds Grizzlies. He should anchor our blueline along with another strong defenseman out of Slave Lake, Colter Tkach. Up front, Bennefield should add some serious scoring punch, and we're expecting big things from Dylan Weaver as well. Corey Dupre, another 20 year old import new to the team, will add speed, enthusiasm and some scoring as well, said Gregory. We also have several rookies that will try to find their way in their first year of junior hockey, such as local products Dallas Graham and Brett Halter.
The Icemen have a special event planned for Sunday with a promotion called Drive One 4UR Community. Brentridge Ford will have many vehicles available to test drive Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Wetaskiwin Civic Centre. Ford will donate $20 from every test drive to support junior B hockey in Wetaskiwin. People who sign up for a test drive will get a free hot dog and free ticket to Sundays home opener.
Icemen go unbeaten on southern road trip
While many CJHL teams opened the regular season this past weekend, the Icemen took part in a tournament in Medicine Hat. Wetaskiwin beat Cypress (Maple Creek, SK) 8-4, scored a 9-2 win over Medicine Hat, and settled for a 4-4 tie with Coaldale after leading that game 4-0.
Gregory liked what he saw from the team.
Over the three-game span, we showed a propensity to score goals both even strength and on special teams. In the 8-4 win over Cypress, we scored four shorthanded goals, and in the game versus Medicine Hat, we scored five power play goals, said Gregory. We are hoping that will be a sign of things to come on special teams.
Leduc drops opener
The Schwab Riggers opened the CJHL season this past Sunday with a 5-2 loss in Morinville.
Beaumont opens season with win
The Chiefs were victorious in their first game of the season. Beaumont, out to defend its league championship of a year ago, doubled up the Bruins 4-2 at Strathcona.