Don’t underestimate Colton Waltz just because his numbers don’t jump off the page like those of some of his rookie teammates.
The first-year Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman has made his mark in a different way, catching the attention of his coaches, not to mention opponents who cross into his territory with their heads down.
Waltz, 17, has earned steady work on the Brandon blue-line — playing in the team’s past 38 games — by quietly going about his business in the defensive zone, and more recently adding a physical edge to his game.
"I think getting that hit, or getting hit even, gets you into the game right away," said the 6-foot-1, 194-pounder from Vermilion, Ata. "You get your head into it and it’s that much better.
"I kinda spoke to the coaches just after the Christmas break. It was something they wanted me to work on and I did that and it’s come along great."
After the Wheat Kings loaded up for the 2010 Memorial Cup, trading their picks in the first two rounds of the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft that year to the Moose Jaw Warriors in the deal that brought Travis Hamonic to Brandon, they used their third-rounder to choose Waltz. Despite being overshadowed as the Wheat Kings’ top prospect from that draft after they brought in first-rounder Tim McGauley and second-rounder Ayrton Nikkel from the Saskatoon Blades, Waltz kept his focus on cracking the Brandon lineup. He joined the team for the end of the 2011-12 season and the playoffs before making the cut as a full-time member this season.
Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said Waltz’s value goes beyond his statistics this season — two goals, four assists, 39 penalty minutes and a plus/minus of minus-15 in 54 games.
"I think that he’s really settled in to where we don’t even call him a rookie anymore," Gylywoychuk said. "He’s played enough games, he’s played enough minutes that he knows what the league’s about. He knows what he has to do every night to help the team out."
Waltz has gotten used to the rookie role the past few seasons. He went through it last season as a 16-year-old with the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the Alberta Junior A league and the year before with the Midget AAA Lloydminster Bobcats. For a defenceman, that often includes making low-risk plays and limiting your mistakes, but Waltz is starting to learn when to sit back and let the play come to him and when to force the issue.
"You want to do the things that made you successful in years past," he said. "I think that’s what I tried working on. I was physical before, I just needed to make that step at the next level. And jumping in the rush, that’s part of my game. I just want to keep progressing.
"You need to keep moving forward and better yourself. To me, if you’re not getting better you’re getting worse."
AROUND THE WHL: Tri-City C Justin Feser is the WHL player of the week for the second time this season after piling up six goals and seven assists in three games. On Tuesday, Feser played his 311th consecutive game, tying the WHL record held by Dwayne Newman, who set the mark between 1988 and 1992 with Brandon and the Victoria Cougars … Eastern Conference- leading Edmonton has had a rough start to its U.S. Division road trip, losing the first two games and outscored 14-5.