Off-season pro experience a boon for ICE veterans

There were a multitude of changes for the Kootenay Ice this off-season, the most significant being the sale of the team to Matt Cockell and Greg Fettes.

Cockell, who is also serving as president and general manager of the club, overhauled the coaching ranks and brought in additional personnel and specialists into the hockey operations staff.

One of the goals for those changes was to help foster a professional environment like there would be with an NHL franchise.

That’s something that Brett Davis and Cale Fleury got to experience over the summer when they were drafted by the Dallas Stars and the Montreal Canadians. Vince Loschiavo went undrafted, however, he joined up with Davis at a prospects development camp with the Stars.

Fleury, a 200-pound right shot defenceman, heard his name called in the third round when the Habs were holding the 87th overall pick. Standing at six-foot-one on the blueline, the Ice captain notched 11 goals and 38 points in last year’s WHL campaign.

“It was awesome,” Fleury said, of his draft experience. “It’s something I’ve been working towards my entire life and especially the last couple of years, just really focusing on that and to have that behind me now is really important.”

Immediately after, he flew out to La Belle province for development camp with fellow Canadiens prospects.

“They said they liked how I played in camp and just they’re excited to work with me throughout the season and just to use them as much as I can,” Fleury said, on the feedback he received from their hockey operations staff.

It’s been a tough couple of years for the Ice but Fleury has been a bright spot.

He’s had the opportunity to learn from his older brother Haydn, a star defenceman with the Red Deer Rebels before being selected seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2014 NHL Draft.

The younger Fleury was named Ice captain last season after wearing an alternate letter the year prior.

Now, after missing the playoffs for the last two seasons, Fleury says he expects nothing less than making a run back into the post-season.

Forward Brett Davis was acquired by the Ice in a trade with the Lethbridge Hurricanes last season, scoring 18 goals and tallying 33 points combined between the two teams.

Davis was drafted this summer by the Stars in the sixth round with the 163rd overall pick.

While Vince Loschiavo wasn’t drafted, he joined Davis at prospects camp and got to have taste of the pro experience.

“It was awesome,” Loschiavo said. “Just how you were treated and the pro experience there and how well they treat themselves off the ice was really awesome and cool to experience that.

“…Especially for the off-ice [stuff]. I learned a lot about how much sleep you need, what you need to eat and things like that and I think that really helped for me and I’ll definitely take it into consideration for the year.”

Loschiavo, a forward, had an impressive year in his third WHL season, scoring 29 goals and notching 57 points in 68 games. Like all the returning veterans, Loschiavo is taking in all the off-season changes that came with the sale of the team.

“I think the transition’s been pretty smooth from the past owners and coaches to this year and I think they’re trying to make it as smooth as possible,” he said. “I know they’re really focused on player experience and making it good for us, so I think it’s really exciting.

Ice head coach James Patrick, a former NHL player with over 1,000 games under his belt, said that prospect development camps are an eye opening experience for young players, especially since he used to be involved during his days as an NHL assistant coach in Buffalo and Dallas.

“The lessons the guys learn — I think it’s great to get paired up with their peers at a higher level and to get some coaching and some drills and some life experiences from people who are brought in just to talk to them about being a good pro and what it takes,” Patrick said.

It’s an atmosphere that the Ice tried to recreate at their training camp, he added.

“I hope it makes them better players for us moving forward,” Patrick said. “It’s definitely something we’ve tried to do at this camp and even with Doug Swanson, our mental skills coach who has talked with some NHL teams and worked with some NHL players, the advice that he can offer is fantastic. I’m hoping in the same little way here that we can have a real positive influence on our younger players.”

NOTES: The Kootenay Ice have returned from a trio of preseason games at a tournament in Kennewick, Washington hosted by the Tri City Americans. The team went 1-2-0-0 but will return for one more game against their hosts on Tuesday. Next, the Ice will head to their annual Crowsnest Pass tournament with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Calgary Hitmen to wrap up the exhibition games. The team made four signings recently, inking F Evan Thomas (1999), F Sebastien Streu (1999), F Cody Shepheard (2001) and D Zachary Patrick (2001) to standard WHL contracts.

 

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Trevor Crawley

Covered the Kootenay Ice and the Western Hockey League for three years with the Cranbrook Townsman before moving into general assignment reporting. However, the pull back to the arena and major-junior hockey was too hard to ignore for the 2017-18 season. Have lived in the city since the mid-90s and watched the Ice move to the area, win three league titles and a Memorial Cup. Excited to see what the future brings. Follow me on Twitter at @tcrawls.