We’ve been talking a lot throughout this training camp about the Broncos 2011 draft class. They’ve got their entire WHL careers ahead of them and in some cases their entire professional careers. It’s a time of optimism for them with endless possibilities.
That is where guys like Daniel Dale and Jonathon Robinson would have been back in 2008. It’s where Ryon Moser was in 2007. Three or four years can be an eternity in hockey. The window that was once wide open has started to close. The WHL opportunities are perhaps starting to run out.
It’s a very different reality for a so called “older” invitee at a junior camp. The 15-year-olds have almost no pressure on them as they can’t even make the team. The 16-year-olds want it badly, but they know they will have a couple of more shots. At 18 and 19? It’s now or never. Be ready to help the team today or that chance at the WHL level may not come again.
All three guys are looking to prove someone wrong. Moser spent two seasons with Lethbridge where he collected 19 points over 113 games in primarily a bottom six role. They released him this summer. Moser is known to have good puck skills and considers himself a set-up man. He doesn’t think he did enough to earn the opportunity to contribute in that way in Lethbridge. That said, he believes if he can earn that type of role he can thrive in it. He did produce at nearly a point per game rate in midget. Could there be some untapped offence here? Could he provide some veteran depth in an age group that doesn’t offer a ton of scoring for Swift Current?
Dale and Robinson never even got that far.
Dale was property of the Prince Albert Raiders and never made that squad. He put up decent numbers (22 points in 34 games) as a 16-year-old with Notre Dame’s Midget AAA team. Last season Dale provided some grit and toughness for his hometown Grande Prairie Storm in the AJHL. The Junior A ranks aren’t so welcoming to potential tough guys these days. Once a guy participates in his sixth fight of the season he starts getting suspended. Dale is not afraid to drop the gloves, but his hands were tied. He had his five fights and was stuck there. Now he brings his impressive speed and strength to a team that could have used a dose of his high energy toughness last winter. The pre-season will be a chance for him to display it.
Robinson’s background suggests someone who would have been more comfortable on a silver screen or surf board than in hockey skates. He even made an appearance on “Friends” as a kid. Instead he has always been drawn to high intensity winter sports and particularly hockey. He was thrilled to get drafted in Saskatoon and seemed fully prepared for life in the Canadian prairies. Then last year he hurt his ankle and couldn’t come to camp. The opportunity slipped away and the Blades dropped him off their list. Robinson went across the country and helped carry the DC U18 Capitals to the NAPHL Championship while putting up around a point per game over just under 80 games in league and tournament play. Now entering his 18-year-old season he has a shot with Swift Current and made a promise to his dying grandmother that he’d give this WHL opportunity everything he had. It could be the last one he gets.
It is hard to imagine Dale or Robinson getting a real chance to enter the league as 19-year-old rookies. It’s highly unlikely Moser would get back to the WHL as an overage player a year removed from major junior. That doesn’t mean their hockey story would end. There is always another way for someone with talent or will. It just means that if they want to play in the Western Hockey League this could be it. The endless possibilities of 2007 and 2008 have come down to a few crucial weeks in 2011. They have to make it count.
I talked to all three guys after Saturday’s training camp games…
Ryan Moser (Download)
Daniel Dale (Download)
Jonathon Robinson (Download)
I wish I had posted these interviews before today’s games. Each guy scored and made an impact for their respective teams. It appeared Robinson was the one who made the tip on the only goal Team Trottier could score on Washington Capitals draft pick Steffen Soberg. Dale blasted a loose puck home with a powerful and accurate one-timer in Team Sakic’s close loss. Moser seemed to find chemistry with Brad Hoban in the second half of that same Team Sakic loss. They combined on three of the four goals his team scored. Could that be a pairing we see together a little more in the exhibition season?
All three guys did something to give the Broncos a reason to at least put them in the annual black and white game on Monday night. I don’t know yet if they made it to that game as the rosters are expected early in the morning. If they made it all three guys have to keep showing they can be impact players right now. Broncos Assistant GM Jamie Porter told me that an 18 or 19-year old guy has to give them a significant reasons for delaying the graduation of one of their prospects to the main roster. It is up to these three guys to make an enthusiastic case for themselves as the games get harder.
The training camp games wrapped up with another win for Team Tiger. They were actually down 3-2 to Team Trottier after the first period of the “first place game” to wrap up Sunday’s action. That didn’t last long. Christian Magnus and Graham Black each had a couple of goals as Team Tiger ran away with things in the second half and won 11-4. Both guys were flying. Black’s play really gives you hope that he could be a big part of the Broncos offence as an 18-year-old rookie. 16-year-old Denis Bosc did a good job complimenting him and had a nice one-timer for a goal on top of that.
Steffen Soberg allowed only one goal in his two appearances this weekend. Again it didn’t seem like he got challenged much by Team Trottier today, but the best goalies make it look easy. We really won’t know much about any of the goalies until they get into the more structured environment of the pre-season. Soberg certainly didn’t offer any reason to doubt him this weekend.
I thought Alec Dillon had a much better performance today than on Saturday. I’m sure it was nice for the young goaltender to rebound. Landon Bow was again very solid for Team Trottier. You don’t see a lot of 16-year-old goaltenders in the WHL. He at least is giving the coaching staff a reason to give him a longer look.
I think Zac Mackay inspired two of the biggest cheers all weekend. The first was when fellow local product Andy Blanke drove the net to set up Mackay’s late first half goal. The second was when he dropped the gloves for a feisty scrap with 15-year-old Dakota Odgers. As I said on twitter it was a fun battle between two guys who could be future leaders for this club. I saw them having a friendly chat after the game too. That is just the competitive nature of the two young men. I think it was also the first fight of camp that Garrett Lockeridge wasn’t a part of.
One of the nicer goals of the game was scored by Bobby Zinkan as he unleashed a gorgeous shot to the top of the net just as he was crushed by Dylan Bauer. I had a quick chat with Zinkan on that and what he needs to do to crack his first WHL line-up as a 16-year-old:
Bobby Zinkan (Download)
The earlier game saw Team Ruskowski take an early lead, blow it, and then score a later winner to take third place 5-4 over Team Sakic. Free agent goaltender Danny Todosychuk turned in a second sharp performance in a row this weekend. This time he pitched a 30 minute shut out against the likes of Brad Hoban, Adam Lowry and Team Sakic. Todosychuk is sticking around for at least another day. Is the 1994 goalie going to put a scare into Austin Smith and Steven Myland as they try to win the second spot in the Broncos goal? If he doesn’t make it here the Vernon product will head to camp with his hometown Vipers of the BCHL. He isn’t packing his bags for BC just yet.
Austin Smith played the full game for Team Sakic and had a fine outing. He told me he’s looking forward to playing more of a real game. I will have more on the Broncos goaltending situation in another post tomorrow so come back for that.
I thought Trey Phillips was the early star of the first game on Sunday. The 18-year-old is another example of the type of player I was talking about with Dale and Robinson. He spent last season as a defenceman with Canmore in the AJHL. He played forward today and made some gorgeous plays to set up at least one goal and a few great chances. It was a nice showcase for him. Can he carry that forward into a more physical and intense environment?
Jordan Peddle popped a couple of goals including the winner after a terrific feed from Reece Scarlett. Dillon Wagner, Taylor Vause and Brad Hoban all got in on the scoring today as well. The overage guys won’t make it easy on Coach Lamb and company. That decision is going to be tough.
The Broncos have been experimenting with Adam Lowry at centre a bit throughout camp. I know it’s a position they are somewhat concerned about heading into the start of the regular season. Is it a fit for Lowry? It’s hard to say. He is a very smart hockey player and certainly thinks the game well enough to play pivot. However, one of his strengths is the ability to product the puck along the wall and down low. Would playing centre take him away from that game a little bit? I’m interested to see how he adjusts if the experiment continues.
The five-day training camp grind is now over. The guys have made it through fitness testing, dry-land training and four straight days with two on-ice sessions. Now we start to find out who has done enough to at least earn a further opportunity here. The annual Black vs. White game goes Monday night ($2 from every $5 ticket goes to the fight against juvenile diabetes) and the rookie game against Moose Jaw on Tuesday night. I imagine there will be some minor cutting tonight with more significant cuts to come after Tuesday. It is crunch time.
The Broncos won’t have any of their 2011 bantam draft class in the black and white game. They will instead go with an older line-up for that one and save the kids for the rookie game on Tuesday. Monday’s game will be more about the guys who are battling for some of the openings on the Broncos roster. I am planning to live blog both games. If it works (and if my computer holds up) I will start-up the live blog right here just around game time. I will provide stream of consciousness text updates and a forum for you to ask questions/chat about the game. I did this in a my old job a couple of times and it was usually a lot of fun. Hopefully it works out here and we can try it out for some other exhibition games.
The Eagle won’t be broadcasting any of the pre-season games until the very last one on the schedule. We are planning a simulcast of the game on September 17th in Shaunavon on both The Eagle 94.1 FM and CJSN in Shaunavon. I’m looking forward to calling the first Broncos action in the new Wickenheiser Centre. It should be fun.
I don’t know yet if I am going to get to Edmonton to provide updates for the Broncos tournament games there. Is that something you would be interested in? It’s quite the trip for games I’m not calling… but I never need much of an excuse to travel for hockey.
I want to wish all the best to Derek Tendler on the next step of his hockey career. The Broncos released the veteran netminder today. He didn’t appear in any game action in camp. Tendler came to Swift Current from Vancouver last season for a 6th round bantam draft pick and ended up splitting back-up duties with Austin Smith before being sent to the MJHL. Tendler is a heck of a nice young man and I hope he finds success somewhere this season. I think conditioning ended up being his biggest enemy. He certainly has the talent to be a very solid junior goalie somewhere.