As the WHL's overage deadline approaches, the Wheat Kings appear set with Chad Robinson (above), Jens Meilleur and Rene Hunter. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
A quiet Western Hockey League overage deadline does not necessarily make for a restful one for those involved.
In the past few years, the October deadline for teams to get down to the limit of three 20-year-old players seems to have taken on less importance with clubs opting to settle their situations earlier. That trend has been taken to the extreme this season, with only one team — the Seattle Thunderbirds — needing to make a move, with six days to go before Tuesday’s deadline.
The Brandon Wheat Kings got down to three before training camp even started as Jason Swyripa opted to pursue his education at Brandon University rather than pursue pucks at Westman Place. That’s made the upcoming deadline easier to face for Chad Robinson, Jens Meilleur and Rene Hunter, but not something they’ve forgotten about entirely.
"It’s always in the back of your mind, obviously, but I’m just taking it day by day, just coming out to practice, working hard and trying to hold my spot on the team here," said Robinson, who has a goal and an assist in seven games. "Obviously, I need to put up (offensive) numbers as a 20-year-old and I think that’s something I need to get going here, the sooner the better."
While Robinson and Meilleur both had strong opening weekends, neither of the forwards has earned a point since then. Of course, offence is not the primary reason either player has been in the WHL as long as they have, but with so few 20-year-old spots available in the league, Meilleur said it’s important to contribute any way he can.
"You just work hard in practice, you play your role and you set an example for the young guys in practice every day," said Meilleur, who has a goal and two assists, all of them earned on opening night.
"(The deadline is) just another day. You’ve got to keep trucking and things will work out for the better."
The player who may have seemed to be the most expendable of the three before the season, with six other veteran defencemen on the roster, Hunter may also be the one who has improved his stock the most. Playing some of the best hockey of his career, Hunter has helped the team weather a rash of early injuries on the blue-line, contributing physical play and some offence — six assists in six games — to the effort.
"It makes you feel better that there’s only three of us right now, but anything can happen. It’s always a battle," Hunter said.
"I think I started out pretty good. Hopefully, I can just keep it going here the rest of the way."
The four 20-year-olds on the Thunderbirds roster include forwards Seth Swenson (seven points this season), Erik Benoit (34 points last season), and Mitch Elliot (147 penalty minutes last season) as well as defenceman Jesse Forsberg (26 points, 103 penalty minutes last season).
Three teams — the Regina Pats, Kootenay Ice and Prince George Cougars — are under the limit and could take on an overager without dropping one.
AROUND THE WHL: It hasn’t taken Kelowna C Nick Merkley long to make his mark in the WHL. The 16-year-old rookie had four goals, two assists and a plus/minus of +6 in three games to earn the WHL and Canadian Hockey League player of the week awards. With five goals and three assists in six games this season, the ninth overall pick in the 2012 WHL bantam draft is second among rookie forwards in scoring behind only the top pick, C Mathew Barzal (three goals, nine assists in eight games) of Seattle … The CHL goalie of the week is Ty Edmonds of Prince George. The 17-year-old former member of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Virden Oil Capitals stopped 81 of the 82 shots he faced with two shutouts in three games and now sits third in the WHL with a 1.68 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 9, 2013