Who will become the No. 1 goaltender? Whose offensive game will blossom to fill the void of departed Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani? What defensive players will step in after Reid Gow and Jeremy McIntosh decided to step away from hockey? These and other questions are on the minds of Spokane Chiefs fans as the Western Hockey League season approaches. Thursday was the initial step, the first day of camp at the Arena. Read story
Adam Helewka said the Chiefs will rise above the departure of Reid Gow and Jeremy McIntosh.
“It will definitely get to the team, but we’re a tight squad and we always find a way,” Helewka said. “But with that, I think it’s just that some people sometimes lose the love of the game. You don’t feel like you can compete hard enough to play in the WHL and it’s understandable. I didn’t see this coming one bit, actually. It totally surprised me. Wow, we’re missing our top ‘D’ man now, our captain. It’s tough, but we’ll get through it. That just gives other guys opportunities.”
Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz said he had a back-and-forth with Gow over the summer but was caught by surprise when McIntosh announced his intentions with one phone call.
“I’m disappointed that it happened,” Speltz said. “I was surprised by both guys. But at the same time, it’s such an exciting time of the year for the other guys that you just look at it as they’re not here, and that’s just the way it is.”
Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said the three remaining 20-year-old players — Liam Stewart, Connor Chartier and Marcus Messier — are a good place to start.
“… They’re three guys who have been pretty good foot soldiers in our locker room,” Nachbaur said. “It’s a young team this year and we know we’re just beginning and have a lot of work ahead of us, for sure.”
Speltz figures that some players will rise to the occasion.
“Every year you have one or two guys who aren’t where you project them or one of two guys who are better, but when you say better I think it means more prepared to be here,” Speltz said. “The summer has a lot to do with that. The guys who have looked after themselves, both physically, with the offseason workouts, but mentally to be prepared to be away from home and take the step to major junior hockey. … We know we’re going to have three or four guys who are going to surprise us and be more ready than we think.”
Nachbaur said he wants breakout players “to see themselves as a goal-scorer every night or the playmaker every night and not occasionally. … I think there are some young guys from last year that just need to take the step. Mitch (Holmberg) was never always the No. 1 scorer in the league. It was a process to get him to that level.”
Spokane's first preseason game is Aug. 29 against Portland at Everett.
The Chiefs' WHL opener is Sept. 20 at Tri-City. Spokane's home opener is Sept. 27, also against Tri-City.