Ask any hopeful about the Western Hockey League bantam draft and you’re likely to hear a familiar refrain: They don’t care when they get chosen and they don’t care who picks them.
While it’s true that most young hockey players are thrilled to be drafted at all, for many of the prospects in this part of the province an easy-going exterior often hides a heart that beats just a little bit faster every time the Brandon Wheat Kings’ turn to pick comes around. That wish came true for Brandonite Connor Gutenberg, who was chosen by his hometown Wheat Kings in the fifth round of Thursday’s draft.
"I grew up watching the Wheat Kings, so it’s a dream come true," said Gutenberg, who led the Brandon Bantam AAA Wheat Kings with 20 goals and 40 points in 32 games this season.
Gutenberg saw his name pop up in the draft results when he glanced at a computer screen while taking a test at school. He admits he had a bit of trouble concentrating on his test after that, but Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said the 5-foot-9, 130-pound centre got high grades in his draft report.
"Connor’s a talented, intelligent player," McCrimmon said. "… I liked him a lot last year (when Gutenberg played for the AAA team as a first-year bantam). Our staff watched him lots this year and he was a player that we went into the day hoping at some point we came out of the draft with him as one of our selections, and it worked out that we were able to select him in the fifth round."
Gutenberg was one of two Brandon bantams chosen in the draft, joined in the ninth round by 6-foot-3, 160-pound defenceman Sam Huston, who went to the Kootenay Ice.
It didn’t take long for the first western Manitoban to be selected as defenceman Josh Brook of Roblin was picked fourth overall by the Moose Jaw Warriors.
A big day for the Southwest Bantam AAA Cougars began in the second round as goaltender Rylan Rommelaere of Boissevain was chosen with the 38th pick by the Medicine Hat Tigers.
"It was a pretty special feeling," said Rommelaere, who had a 3.40 goals-against average and an .883 save percentage for the Cougars this season. "I didn’t expect to go that early, but it was a nice surprise."
Rommelaere was pleased to be followed by three of his teammates — defenceman Cody Thompson of Killarney was picked in the third round by the Prince Albert Raiders, while right-winger Reg Pohl of Douglas went to the Seattle Thunderbirds in the ninth round, and centre Brian Harris of Wawanesa was an 11th-round selection of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Two members of the Parkland Bantam AAA Rangers were picked, with Connor Dewar of Gilbert Plains going in the fifth round to the Everett Silvertips. Defenceman Tyler Jubenvill, who is also from Gilbert Plains, was picked in the ninth round by the Spokane Chiefs.
ONE-TIMERS: The conclusion of the bantam draft was followed by a major coaching shuffle as the Vancouver Giants confirmed that head coach Don Hay will leave the team to return to his hometown and coach the Kamloops Blazers. Dave Hunchak took a leave of absence from the Blazers in January and was replaced on an interim basis by Guy Charron, and the team had been looking for a longer term replacement … Among the trades pulled off on draft day was a deal that sent C Alex Forsberg, a former first overall pick, from the Prince George Cougars to the Saskatoon Blades. In exchange for Forsberg, who had 28 points in 44 games as an 18-year-old this season, the Cougars got a conditional third-round pick and prospect Haydn Hopkins.