BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Kord Pankewicz skates up ice during a drill in Brandon Wheat Kings practice Wednesday at Westman Place.
No longer caught between positions, Kord Pankewicz is edging closer to becoming the player the Brandon Wheat Kings envisioned when they chose him in the first round of the Western Hockey League bantam draft.
Defenceman Taylor Green, who missed opening weekend with an injury, practised fully on Wednesday. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
Selected as a defenceman, 11th overall in 2011, Pankewicz did double duty for the Wheat Kings last season, spending the first half as a forward — his position in midget in 2011-12 — before returning to the blue-line in January. After spending the last half of the season reacquainting himself with defence, Pankewicz finally looks comfortable as a rearguard.
"Last year it was hard transitioning midway through the year and just going," Pankewicz said. "Now I’ve had some time in the off-season to progress."
Pankewicz’s progress was very evident on the first weekend of the regular season. Asked to play more minutes than ever before due to injuries and captain Ryan Pulock’s extended tryout with the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders, Pankewicz finished the home-and-home sweep of the Moose Jaw Warriors with a WHL-best plus/minus of +7, including a remarkable +5, one assist performance in Brandon’s opening-night 6-3 victory.
"He had a good pre-season (and a) good opening weekend," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "He was one of three veterans in the lineup for really I guess 50 minutes of Friday’s game and all of Saturday’s game. I think that’s been good for him to play lots of minutes, have lots of responsibility and I think as a result he’s seized the moment and played pretty well."
The defensive numbers are particularly encouraging for the 5-foot-11, 202-pound native of Drayton Valley, Alta., who has had to work hard on his play in his own zone. As that improves, he hopes to more frequently showcase his offensive abilities which have been largely hidden during his WHL career, with just seven points — all assists — in 51 games.
He also believes that as Brandon’s veteran defencemen return to the lineup, the experience he’s gaining will make Brandon’s blue-line unit that much stronger.
"I think we have one of the best defensive corps potentially in the WHL and I think we’re going to strive for that throughout the year," he said.
REINFORCEMENTS: Pankewicz could have more veteran company on the blue-line soon. After skating in no-contact jerseys on Tuesday, injured defencemen Nick Walters and Taylor Green practised without restrictions on Wednesday and both are listed as day-to-day on the injury report.
The return of Walters was surprising given the team announced last week he needed knuckle surgery that would sideline him for up to two months.
"He has permission to skate, so we’re doing that and we’re talking about what the options are at this point," McCrimmon said. "That’s as much we know for now."
Additionally, 20-year-old defenceman Rene Hunter, who was injured on Friday when he went head-first into the boards after Warriors forward Alexander Chirva ducked under an attempted hit, resumed non-contact practice on Wednesday.
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings visit the Prince Albert Raiders Friday and Saturday (7:30 both nights, CKLQ) … After opening the season with a two-game sweep of the Saskatoon Blades, the Raiders have climbed three spots to No.3 in this week’s Canadian Hockey League rankings … Kootenay Ice GM Jeff Chynoweth has acquired his 18-year-old son, C Ryan Chynoweth, from the Tri-City Americans for a fifth-round bantam pick in either 2014 or 2015.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 26, 2013