Give American goalie Evan Robert full credit for blending into his surroundings as he tries to put himself in the mix for a spot with the Brandon Wheat Kings for the coming season.
The 17-year-old from Oakdale, Minn., even went so far as to sport a borrowed Toronto Blue Jays cap during the Wheat Kings’ spring prospects camp on Friday. While he fits in with his Canadian counterparts off the ice, Robert’s goal is to stand out enough on the ice to put himself at the front of the coaching staff’s minds for training camp in August.
“I’m just going to work as hard as I can to crack the roster as soon as possible,” said Robert, who played for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Junior Knights U18 team last season, posting a 2.09 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in the Atlantic Youth Hockey League. “I want to play in the Western league. I’ve had options to play NCAA down in the States, but I really want to see what the WHL has to offer from a developmental standpoint. If I want to play professional hockey, I’ve got to play in the WHL. It’s the best place for me.”
Robert has seen some of his Wilkes-Barre/Scranton teammates jump to higher levels, including Chandler Yakimowicz, who joined the Memorial Cup host London Knights midway through the season, convincing the goaltender that he’d like to make a similar jump.
With only two spots typically available on a team, shots to play at the highest levels can be hard to come by for goaltenders. But the window of opportunity has been opened in Brandon, with head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon stating overage goalie Curtis Honey won’t be back with the Wheat Kings, leaving only sophomore Jordan Papirny as an incumbent.
While the club could look elsewhere for its second goaltender, the most likely internal candidates are Robert and fellow 17-year-old Logan Thompson of Calgary.
Thompson got a foot in the door by filling in as an emergency backup when Honey was injured during the playoffs and, although he didn’t play, he saw everything he needed to convince him this was where he wanted to be.
“Ever since I was an emergency call-up for playoffs, I just soaked it all in and this is where I want to play next year for sure,” said Thompson, who combined to post a 2.49 goals-against average between the regular season and the playoffs with the Calgary Midget AAA Buffaloes this season. “There’s a lot of good goalies here, Robert is pretty good, but I’m going to try my hardest to make the squad this year.”
VETERAN PRESENCE: A handful of former Wheat Kings now playing professionally are helping out at the camp, including Tyler Plante, Matt Calvert, Colby Robak and Andrew Clark.
Returning veterans Jesse Gabrielle, Tyler Coulter, Braylon Shmyr and Brett Kitt skated during practices to fill out the lineups, while Quintin Lisoway was also due to practise, but was hit by a puck during the goaltending session and had to get stitches.
COLLEGE CROWD: The Wheat Kings have a number of players in the camp’s age group from 1997 through 1999 who have committed to NCAA colleges, and none of them are at this weekend’s camp. University of Minnesota-Duluth commit Mikey Anderson, chosen in the 11th round of this month’s WHL bantam draft, is the only member of the current draft class not at the camp.
WEEKEND WORKOUTS: The players will take part in a four-on-four scrimmage this morning at 8:30, followed by a goaltending session at 10:15 a.m. The camp wraps up on Sunday with an intrasquad game at Westman Place at 9 a.m.