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This article was published 22/10/2019 (564 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Landon Roberts knew he was in for a big transition after earning a spot with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans.
And while that has meant being a healthy scratch some nights, the six-foot-three, 200-pound forward from Souris is ready to work even harder to take the next step.
"I try to use it as motivation
," Roberts said. "Obviously I’m not getting into the games so I have to get my work in before games or in the gym and after practices when the scratches get in some extra work skating. My practices are my games so I really have to perform well in them and be ready and be focused and try to develop myself there."
Roberts, 17, has played in four games this season, with no points but seven penalty minutes, a plus-minus of +1, two shots on goal and a 50 per cent success rate after 22 faceoff draws.
It’s an opportunity he worked hard to have. Roberts said he spent the summer preparing for Tri-City’s camp.
"I knew it was going to be tough this year because they have a strong ’03 group coming in and I knew they had lots of vets who were going to be making the team again
," Roberts said. "I knew that I would have to fight to even get a spot on the team and get some playing time this year. My mindset throughout the whole summer was just to get myself as prepared as possible, training with FPC in the gym and with Hockey Factory on the ice all the time just trying to get myself as ready as I could for camp."
He has certainly never been handed anything.
In his bantam draft year, Roberts scored 25 goals and added 27 assists in 32 games with the Southwest Cougars, and was selected in the sixth round, 129th overall, by the Americans. He was also picked in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League bantam draft, going 11th overall to the Steinbach Pistons.
In two U18 seasons with the Cougars, Roberts scored 21 goals and added 13 assists in 71 games. He knows where his strengths lie.
"Definitely my physicality and I would say my skating
," Roberts said. "I would say I’m a 200-foot player. I like playing defence but obviously I can still get stuff done in the offensive end of the ice. I like playing a physical game and wearing out my opponents, and seizing the opportunities that I get."
He accomplished that mission in camp by sticking with the WHL club, but that was just the start of the adventure as he faced a massive transition to the higher level of hockey.
The left-handed shooting Roberts said the biggest difference for him between U18 hockey and the WHL is the speed.
"It’s just practising with the guys every day and adjusting to the speed with them
, and then bringing it into games and adjusting to it throughout the year and hopefully catching onto it right away," Roberts said.
He’s also faced a significant off-ice transition. Tri-City plays out of Kennewick, Wash., a community of 73,000 located 500 kilometres directly south of Kelowna, B.C.
The Grade 12 student, who lives about 10 or 15 minutes away from the rink with a former Winnipegger, is happy with the move.
"It’s going really well for me
," Roberts said. "The team has provided me with a great billet and picked out the best teachers in the school for us, who will give us our best chances for grades and learning opportunities. They’ve made it quite easy on us actually. It’s gone very smoothly.’
The atmosphere at American games is also decidely different, often with a more electric atmosphere than at Canadian games. A wag once suggested that American fans attend games to have fun, while Canadian fans watch them as if they might be named general manager the next day.
Roberts has certainly noticed the excitement of the American fans.
," Roberts said. "They have a great environment. Everyone is very into it and love seeing the guys out on the ice. It just makes for a great time playing hockey here."
That gets even better for Roberts tonight. The Brandon Wheat Kings make their biennial visit to Kennewick, and Roberts, who knows several Brandon players, can’t wait.
"Even last year I was watching these guys play
," Roberts said of the Wheat Kings. "I grew up watching them and always thought when I was younger that it would be great to have the opportunity to play at that level of hockey these guys are playing at. If I get on the ice and get to line up against that jersey, it will be a surreal experience for me."
The good news for Roberts is that he has a couple of friends close at hand. The bad news is that his former Cougars teammates wear other uniforms.
Tyson Kozak plays with the Portland Winterhawks and Jordan Chudley skates with the Spokane Chiefs.
"I did get a chance to talk with Tyson in pre-season a little bit
when he was in Tri-City for the tournament," Roberts said. "Other than that, I’ve seen Chudley on the ice a few times when we’ve been playing each other. I haven’t had a chance to speak with him too much."
Roberts said his time with the Cougars bantam and U18 program was important in his development. It certainly got him accustomed to playing Wheat Kings teams.
"Throughout bantam, I definitely got a lot of ice time and got to feel the puck more and develop my skills
," Roberts said. "In the last two years of midget I definitely learned that you have to perform to get your ice time, and if you don’t, you have to work harder to get it."
There was another massive deal in the WHL on Saturday when the Winnipeg Ice acquired 19-year-old Jackson Leppard from the Prince George Cougars for 19-year-old defenceman Marco Creta of Oak Bluff, 18-year-old forward Holden Kodak, third-round picks in 2021 and 2022 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2022. Leppard, the eighth-overall pick of the 2015 bantam draft, has 72 points in 178 WHL games. He had a goal and an assist in his Winnipeg debut on Sunday.
Calgary Hitmen forward Orca Wiesblatt has been named the WHL’s player of the week. In three games last week, the five-foot-10, 185-pound product of Calgary, had three goals and three assists.
Meanwhile, Dylan Garand of the Kamloops Blazers has been named the goaltender of the week. In a pair of victories last week, the six-foot-one, 172-pound product of Victoria, B.C., stopped 48 of 49 shots.
Former Brandon Wheat Kings coach Cory Clouston has landed with Kamloops, where he'll help out his brother Shaun Clouson, the team’s head coach. Kamloops associate coach Darryl Sydor has taken a personal leave of absence, so Cory was hired on an interim basis.
Cory Clouston coached in Brandon during the 2011-12 season, and last was behind the bench in Germany two seasons ago. He spent three seasons as a coach with the Ottawa Senators in the National Hockey League.