With a limit of only three 20-year-old players per team, deciding which veterans to keep is a difficult decision for many Western Hockey League clubs at this time of year.
Lately, a lot of players are making that decision for them.
Recently, Killarney’s Reid Gow walked away from the Spokane Chiefs despite being their captain and top defenceman, and on Tuesday the Kootenay Ice announced a pair of Westman blue-liners have done the same, opting to stay home from camp for their 20-year-old seasons.
Ice owner/general manager Jeff Chynoweth told team broadcaster Jeff Hollick that Brandonite Landon Cross and Virden’s Landon Peel both want to play in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League this season, Cross with the Steinbach Pistons and Peel with the RBC Cup host Portage Terriers. Players leaving the WHL to spend their final junior season in Junior A isn’t a new phenomenon, but based on Chynoweth’s words, it seems WHL teams are increasingly reluctant to see it happen.
"Unfortunately both players are going to be suspended (by the Ice) for not reporting to camp and fulfilling their 20-year-old year of their WHL Standard Contract," Chynoweth said on Hollick’s Between the Lines blog. "How long the suspension lasts, I don't know. But I know the WHL is working with Hockey Manitoba and the Manitoba Junior league."
Chynoweth told Hollick that only one of the two would have made the team based on the rest of Kootenay’s roster, but that player would have a major role.
Peel was picked up by the Ice midway through the 2012-13 season and recorded four goals, 16 assists and a plus/minus of +4 in 63 games with Kootenay last season. Cross joined the Ice in a trade with the Kamloops Blazers last season, totalling two goals, nine assists, a plus/minus of -3 and 82 penalty minutes in 67 games.
"I think (the WHL is) concerned about players not fulfilling their contracts," Chynoweth told Hollick. "When they signed their contracts they’re for five years, usually from 16 to 20 and includes their 20-year-old season. … We’ve got to stick together as the Western Hockey League and the 22 teams because if players just want to walk whenever they can, it doesn’t bode well for our future."
The Ice are down to two overagers, forwards Levi Cable and Austin Vetterl, while they wait to find out if 20-year-old goalie Mackenzie Skapski will be returned by the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers.
AROUND THE WHL: C Meyer Nell of Boissevain scored the winning goal in the Red Deer Rebels intrasquad game on Sunday.Nell, 17, and Virden C Tyler Kirkup, 16, are still with the Rebels, who are down to 33 players … C Morgan Geekie, 16, of Strathclair had a goal and an assist in the Tri-City Americans intrasquad game on Sunday … While the Brandon Wheat Kings are just beginning camp, the Swift Current Broncos and Moose Jaw Warriors played the WHL’s first pre-season game Tuesday night. The Moose Jaw Times-Herald reports the Warriors donated the gate from last night’s game, plus $2,000 collected at their intrasquad game, to the suicide awareness and prevention charity Journey to Hope in memory of Ethan Williams, a prospect from Winnipeg who committed suicide in July … The Portland Winterhawks have signed the 19th overall pick of this year’s WHL bantam draft, C Cody Glass of Winnipeg.