WHL Overager Spotlight: Curtis Valk, Medicine Hat Tigers

As the season of free agent signings in juniors approaches, Soft Mitts, Heavy Hits is taking a look at some of the potential pickups in the Western Hockey League.  Each post will spotlight one overage player who is neither drafted nor signed.  The full set of profiles can be found in the WHL Overager Spotlight tag.  Today’s featured player is Curtis Valk, a forward with the Regina Pats.

Curtis Valk
Position: C Shoots: left
Height: 5’9″ Weight: 170
2013-14 GP: 70 G: 44 A: 43 Pts: 87 +/-: +29 PIM: 36

Curtis Valk (right) fights for space against the Edmonton Oil Kings, March 12th. (Photo credit: Eugene Erick/whl.ca)

Curtis Valk (right) fights for space against the Edmonton Oil Kings, March 12th. (Photo credit: Eugene Erick/whl.ca)

Going from a long shot to hometown hero is a staple of fiction that takes a lot of work when it happens in real life.  That’s what Curtis Valk has put into his own hockey journey, which is now wrapping up its Western Hockey League chapter.  Valk took the long road to find success, having made his hometown Medicine Hat Tigers as a listed player rather than through the bantam draft, and taking a background role to notable scorers Emerson Etem and Hunter Shinkaruk in his first years on the team. When Etem graduated to the pro leagues, however, Valk stepped up and turned heads with his offensive output–he led the team in scoring, keeping pace with Shinkaruk during his draft year. With Shinkaruk out this year after a season-ending hip surgery, Valk has been looked to for not only his offensive ability, but also to captain the team.

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Through the eyes of a scout: Zenon Herasymiuk

Zenon Herasymiuk’s hockey story began like many others. He spent his early years in Regina, receiving his first jersey at age three—the gold and black of his favourite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. He took up hockey at novice age, after his family moved to Calgary, and played all through his formative years. At 20, Herasymiuk is 6-1, 185 pounds—a decent hockey player size—and is in his last year of junior eligibility.

Zenon Herasymiuk is the Chief Western Scout for Future Considerations Hockey. (photo: Katt/softmittsheavyhits.com)

Zenon Herasymiuk is the Chief Western Scout for Future Considerations Hockey. (photo: Katt/softmittsheavyhits.com)

However, his hockey story didn’t lead him to the Western Hockey League—at least, not as a player. Instead, Herasymiuk is the chief western scout for Future Considerations Hockey, or FC Hockey, an independent scouting service.

2014 is Herasymiuk’s first season as FC Hockey’s head scout in Western Canada, having spent a couple of years as a regional scout before getting the promotion this past summer. He has other regional scouts who report to him, and he finalizes their rankings before conferring with FC Hockey’s director of scouting, Dan Stewart, for the master list.

Zenon was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on scouting, draft ranking, sleeper picks, and the Edmonton Oil Kings.

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WHL Overager Spotlight: Eetu Laurikainen, Swift Current Broncos

As the season of free agent signings in juniors approaches, Soft Mitts, Heavy Hits is taking a look at some of the potential pickups in the Western Hockey League.  Each post will spotlight one overage player who is neither drafted nor signed.  The full set of profiles can be found in the WHL Overager Spotlight tag.  Today’s featured player is Eetu Laurikainen, a goaltender with the Swift Current Broncos.

Eetu Laurikainen
Position: goaltender Shoots/Catches: left
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 185
2013-14 Record: 23-20-6 GAA: 2.86 SV%: .916 SO: 4 

Eetu Laurikainen is arguably the WHL’s most exciting goaltender. (photo: whl.ca)

The CHL made news in June 2013 when it was announced that European goaltenders would no longer be eligible for the CHL Import Draft. The move received–and continues to receive–a substantial amount of criticism, but unfortunately, the days of the European CHL goaltender are numbered. The WHL currently has four: Los Angeles Kings prospect Patrik Bartosak (Red Deer, Czech Republic), Phoenix Coyotes prospect Marek Langhamer (Medicine Hat, Czech Republic), 1994-born Patrik Polivka (Victoria, Czech Republic), and Swift Current’s sensational starter, Eetu Laurikainen of Finland.

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WHL Overager Spotlight: Boston Leier, Regina Pats

As the season of free agent signings in juniors approaches, Soft Mitts, Heavy Hits is taking a look at some of the potential pickups in the Western Hockey League.  Each post will spotlight one overage player who is neither drafted nor signed.  The full set of profiles can be found in the WHL Overager Spotlight tag.  Today’s featured player is Boston Leier, a forward with the Regina Pats.

Boston Leier
Position: LW Shoots: left
Height: 5’11″ Weight: 185
2013-14 GP: 59 G: 31 A: 35 Pts: 64 +/-: +5 PIM: 51

Boston Leier notches a goal against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Nov. 13, 2013. (Michael Bell/Regina Leader-Post)

In his first three seasons in the WHL, Boston Leier was a Medicine Hat Tiger beloved by his teammates not for offensive prowess, but for his character. His hockey skill helped too, of course, but on teams populated by highly-touted scorers such as Emerson Etem and Hunter Shinkaruk, Leier found his niche as a hard-nosed depth forward doing all the little things right. His dedication to the team effort earned him an alternate captain’s letter for the 2012-13 season, in which the Tigers named him their best defensive forward, and also awarded him their “Success Factors” award, which they present to a player each year whom they consider a “difference maker” in the small margins between victory and defeat. It accounts for things that don’t necessarily show up on a scoresheet: “shots, blocked shots, hits, quick shifts, [defensive zone] clears, penalty kills”–a description so accurate to Leier’s game that his teammates joked they should change the award’s name to “Leier Factors”.

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WHL Overager Spotlight: Cody Corbett, Edmonton Oil Kings

As the season of free agent signings in juniors approaches, Soft Mitts, Heavy Hits is taking a look at some of the potential pickups in the Western Hockey League.  Each post will spotlight one overage player who is neither drafted nor signed.  The full set of profiles can be found in the WHL Overager Spotlight tag.  Today’s featured player is Cody Corbett, a defenseman with the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Update: Cody Corbett has been signed to a three-year Entry Level Contract by the Colorado Avalanche. Congratulations, Cody!

Cody Corbett
Position: defense Shoots: left
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 194
2013-14 GP: 57 G: 16 A: 40 Pts: 56 +/-: 21 PIM: 30

Cody Corbett

Cody Corbett has grown into a leader on the Oil Kings’ blueline since his rookie season in 2011-12. (photo: oilkings.ca)

When a player switches from the Minnesota High School ranks to the WHL, it’s expected that he’ll need a grace period to adjust to the Canadian Hockey League’s elevated level of play. This wasn’t especially true for Cody Corbett, who joined the Edmonton Oil Kings in late October of their 2011-12 Championship season. Collecting his first WHL goal and assist in just his 3rd game, it appeared that the Oil Kings had found a diamond in the rough, having listed Corbett in 2011. Corbett didn’t see substantial ice time that season on the league’s best defense corps (led by Mark Pysyk, Griffin Reinhart, Keegan Lowe, and Martin Gernat) but just a couple of seasons later, Corbett now finds himself in a class of his own among all the big names that have defended the Oil Kings net. As of March 2nd, with eight games to play, Corbett is now the franchise record holder for single-season goals and points by a defenseman–and sits just one back of Mark Pysyk’s career record of 125 points, in 61 fewer games.

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WHL Overager Spotlight: Dylan Bredo, Medicine Hat Tigers

As the season of free agent signings in juniors approaches, Soft Mitts, Heavy Hits is taking a look at some of the potential pickups in the Western Hockey League.  Each post will spotlight one overage player who is neither drafted nor signed.  The full set of profiles can be found in the WHL Overager Spotlight tag.  Today’s featured player is Dylan Bredo, a defenseman with the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Dylan Bredo (left) plays against the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Jan. 14. (Photo: CanesCast/whl.ca)

Dylan Bredo (left) plays against the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Jan. 14. (Photo: CanesCast/whl.ca)

Dylan Bredo
Position: defense Shoots: left
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 197
2013-14 GP: 64 G: 4 A: 36 Pts: 40 +/-: 27 PIM: 47

When Dylan Bredo was taken in the second round of the 2008 bantam draft by the Medicine Hat Tigers, it’s unlikely that anyone could have guessed the path he’d take through his WHL career.  Originally drafted as a winger, Bredo switched to centre in his second season with the team.  His third season saw Bredo become the top line centre, providing the reliability needed for his highly talented wingers–first rounders Emerson Etem (Anaheim) and Hunter Shinkaruk (Vancouver)–to do their best work.  Last season he shifted to a more defensive role, working to limit the opposition’s top lines.  When the Tigers blueline needed some assistance due to injuries and trades around the halfway point of the season, he was the obvious choice to make the switch, immediately becoming their top offensive defenseman.  Although he wasn’t expected to stay in that role in a long-term capacity, he fit in so well that he’s now officially listed as a defenseman on the roster, sometimes playing a more offensive role and sometimes shutting down the opposition.

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Unraveling the Mystery of the Beer League

Matthew Bagnall sits in a vacant locker room at Donnan Arena, the distinct and familiar smell of a hockey rink circulating with the cold, stale air.  A herd of young kids parades by, loud and raucous, the practice they’ve just finished having done nothing to curb their energy.  They’re full of promise and potential; some of them may even play in the NHL.

CCRHL defenceman Matthew Bagnall prepares for a Sunday night game. (photo: Katt/softmittsheavyhits.com)

It’s a stark contrast.

There’s about half an hour to puck drop. Bagnall is chowing down on a Wendy’s cheeseburger, and is still feeling the effects of last night’s company function. By day, he’s a project accountant with Enbridge. Tonight, though, he’s a defenceman for the Direwolves, a Division 8 team in Edmonton’s Capital City Recreational Hockey League, or CCRHL.

The culture of hockey in Canada is well documented, although that usually refers to the professional ranks of the NHL, or even Major Junior and minor pro. It rarely refers to recreational hockey.  Still, the sub-culture of the “beer league” is alive and well.

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WHL goalies fail to make the cut, again

Team WHL's Eric Comrie makes a save on Team Russia's Ildar Shiksatdarov in game 5 of the Subway Super Series. (Photo: Andy Devlin/http://subwaysuperseries.ca)

Team WHL’s Eric Comrie makes a save on Team Russia’s Ildar Shiksatdarov in game 5 of the Subway Super Series. (Photo: Andy Devlin/subwaysuperseries.ca)

When Eric Comrie and Tristan Jarry were left off the roster for the Canadian World Junior team camp last week, they joined a growing club of WHL goaltenders who’d found themselves cut from the national team despite their skills and stats.  This is the fourth year in a row where the goaltending tandem for the tournament has lacked a WHL representative.  In the six years before that–including the five-year gold medal streak–ten of the thirteen goalies who suited up for Team Canada were Western Leaguers, with four of those tandems WHL only.  Given the recent controversies over Canadian goaltending on the international stage, it seems strange that Hockey Canada appears set on dismissing an entire league’s worth of goalies when it comes to the biggest junior tournament in the world.

The first year that saw the WHL left out was 2011.  Seattle Thunderbirds goalie Calvin Pickard headed into selection camp with strong stats despite playing on a team that had struggled to find wins.  A second round draft pick the summer before, Pickard came to selection camp with a .928 sv%, a 2.78 GAA, and hopes of following in his older brother Chet’s footsteps and playing for the national team.  After a strong showing during the summer camp, Pickard was considered a near lock for the team.  Instead, he had what he admitted was not his best camp, and found himself cut.

History repeated itself the next year, when Medicine Hat Tigers goaltender Tyler Bunz attended camp looking to battle for either the starting position or the backup position behind probable returning goaltender Mark Visentin.  After the historic–and painful–third period collapse in the gold medal game the year before, when Canada had given up five goals to Russia, goaltending was in the spotlight more than ever.  Bunz looked strong heading into camp, with a .922 sv% and 2.58 GAA, but, like Pickard, he found that a rough camp ended his national team hopes.

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Tristan Jarry may not be getting the respect he deserves

Edmonton Oil Kings goalie Tristan Jarry was one of the more noticeable names left off of Hockey Canada’s selection camp invite list for the World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden. Despite a sparkling record of 34-14-0-1, 1.79 GAA, .930 SV%, and 9 shutouts since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, it appears that Jarry has yet to garner the respect to go along with these accomplishments. The Pittsburgh Penguins gave the goalie their vote of confidence with the 44th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and an Entry Level Contract that followed on September 4th, but between the selection camp snub and the fact that Jarry was initially left off even the Team WHL Super Series roster, it looks like Jarry still has to prove to many that he’s not just a solid backup.

IMG_0841 copy

Tristan Jarry is in his first year as the starter for the Edmonton Oil Kings. (photo: Katt/softmittsheavyhits.com)

Jarry spent the first two years of his career as the backup to Laurent Brossoit, the 2012 WHL Playoff MVP and recently acquired cornerstone of the Edmonton Oilers’ goaltending future. He had a breakout season in that role in the 2012-13 season, making 27 starts behind Brossoit and finishing with a league-leading 1.61 GAA, .936 SV% and 6 shutouts—unheard of numbers for a WHL goaltender, backup or not. Jarry would sometimes have to wait for weeks to get a start over Brossoit, but never faltered in spite of his long layoffs. Ironically, Hockey Canada had a hand to play in that, as well—Jarry was expected to see a stretch of starts while Brossoit was in Russia with Team Canada, but was forced back to the bench when Brossoit was unexpectedly cut. Some criticism of Jarry may come from the fact that he’s been held to just 65 WHL starts in the last three seasons. However, in this, Jarry’s first season as a full-time starting goaltender, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

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Can Tommy Vannelli make Team USA?

The Tigers' Tommy Vannelli battles against the Oil Kings' Mitch Moroz, Sept. 27. (Photo credit: Andy Devlin/oilkings.ca)

The Tigers’ Tommy Vannelli battles against the Oil Kings’ Mitch Moroz, Sept. 27. (Photo credit: Andy Devlin/oilkings.ca)

Heading into the 2013-14 season, Tommy Vannelli was a mostly unknown player outside of his home state of Minnesota. A standout player on his high school team, Vannelli was taken in the 2013 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues, who decided that his high potential was worth a second round pick. After a strange start to the season, Vannelli has surprised many by making a quick adjustment to the Western Hockey League out of high school and has shown himself to be a talented offensive defenseman. Cut from USA Hockey’s World Juniors camp this summer, Vannelli has nonetheless remained in the conversation as a possible dark horse for the team.

Following a final high school season that saw Vannelli put up 35 points in 27 games, he was expected to start his college career with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers this year. Before playing a single game with the team, however, Vannelli decided that college hockey wasn’t the best route for him. With encouragement from both the Blues organization and his one time roommate Michael McCarron, Vannelli instead chose to join the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL, citing both the level of play and more professional schedule as factors in his decision.

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