As three youngsters who will form the core of future Brandon Wheat Kings teams were reassigned, a recent graduate who has faced some serious health issues made an appearance at practice on Monday.
Fifteen-year-old forwards Nate Danielson, Tyson Zimmer and Rylen Roersma, who were all selected in the first round of the Western Hockey League bantam draft in May, were returned to their midget clubs. They aren’t eligible to make the jump to the WHL until next season.
But that news was overshadowed on Monday when Stelio Mattheos began a three-day conditioning stint with the Wheat Kings. The Carolina Hurricanes, the National Hockey League team that drafted him in 2017, announced in August that Mattheos had been diagnosed with testicular cancer just after the Charlotte Checkers won the American Hockey League championship.
The former Wheat Kings captain and leading scorer joined Charlotte after Brandon missed the playoffs. Mattheos politely declined comment on Monday after practice, but general manager Darren Ritchie said it was good to see him.
"You could tell that he was happy to be around some of his teammates," Ritchie said. "He had a big smile and just a great sense about himself, that he was happy to be around here. Obviously he’s feeling much better and it’s really encouraging to see him on the ice. He’s gone through a tough time, and we’ll help him the best that we can. This is just a little thing that maybe can take his mind off what he’s going through here (on Monday) and for the next two days.
"We’re just trying to help him feel like a hockey player again."
The Hurricanes announced Mattheos had gone through surgery in June by Dr. Sabeer Rehsia at Winnipeg’s Grace Hospital, and that he has since done multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
Caiden Daley played alongside Mattheos for three seasons, and the two Winnipeggers are tight.
"When I saw him out there on the ice, I was relieved for him and happy," Daley said. "He’s a close friend of mine, and with all the stuff he’s been through in the summer, I was just really excited and happy to see him out there. He looked good."
While not all of the Wheat Kings know as intimately as Daley does about the struggles Mattheos went through, he said his teammates were universally thrilled to see him.
"All the guys, when they heard he was here, rushed to the other dressing room to say hi to him," Daley said. "He had a big smile on his face. He was a huge part of this organization when he played here and he’s still a big part of it. We were just happy to see him all smiles and ready to get back out there. I’m happy for him, and I think a lot of people here are happy for him. It’s good for him to get out here and be with us."
Connor Gutenberg entered the league alongside Mattheos in the 2015-16 season as the only two 16-year-olds on a team that would win a league championship. Gutenberg said Mattheos called him after he was diagnosed, but they hadn’t been together since last season.
"It was really great to see him back on the ice doing what he loves, and he looked really great out there," Gutenberg said. "It was really good to see him back to normal."
Mattheos is expected to join Charlotte this season, although his timetable is uncertain.
As the 20-year-old prepares for his departure from the Wheat City to pro hockey, three key members of the team’s future will be working to make their way back.
Roersma, Danielson and Zimmer will all go their separate ways, with the latter two likely facing each other this season.
Danielson will play prep hockey with Northern Alberta Xtreme, Zimmer will return to OHA Penticton and Roersma will join the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Alberta Midget Hockey League.
"It was a very good first camp for all three," Ritchie said. "They played well in the game on Saturday, played with speed and all three boys had chances. It’s a big year for them to develop this winter with their club teams."
He said all three were sent home with similar messages about how they can prepare for next season when they potentially enter the league as 16-year-olds.
"It’s all about going back to their teams and being leaders with good practice habits," Ritchie said. "It’s all about being better and listening to their coaches and taking in all the details. It’s a big thing that I think they’ve learned while they were here with our coaching staff."
ICINGS: The Wheat Kings meet the Moose Jaw Warriors on Friday in Saskatchewan and close out their pre-season schedule in Brandon at Westoba Place on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. … Brandon remains without key veterans Jiri Patera, Luka Burzan and Ben McCartney, all of whom are in NHL camps … The Seattle Thunderbirds have acquired 18-year-old forward Alex Morozoff for a fifth-round bantam pick in 2021 … The pre-season has its first two suspensions. Randen Schmidt of the Saskatoon Blades earned one game for a spearing major and game misconduct he took versus Prince Albert on Sept. 6, and the length of the banishment of Nick Bowman of the Tri-City Americans hasn’t yet been determined for a check from behind major and game misconduct he took versus Seattle on Sept. 6.
» Twitter: @PerryBergson