The Spokane Chiefs backed up their words with action – or lack thereof.
With first-year coach Don Nachbaur promising to give everybody a chance who deserved one, the Western Hockey League team only cut half of the players invited to last weekend’s training camp.
The 35 players are almost enough to field two squads for the preseason games, which begin this weekend in Everett.
“You’ve got to keep in mind we’re going to lose players next week to NHL camps,” Nachbaur, an experienced coach with previous WHL stops at Seattle and Tri-City, said. “Another reason we kept them around, those are the players that impressed us. When you impress management in the first phase of camp, we want to see you against other teams. The intensity level definitely goes up.
“It’s opening the door for guys to do well. I think we’re presenting that for these guys.”
The Chiefs play Tri-City in Everett on Friday afternoon and then play Seattle and Portland the next two days at 11:30 a.m.
After that, veteran forwards Tyler Johnson (Minnesota), Levko Koper (Atlanta) and Blake Gal (Philadelphia) and defenseman Brenden Kitchton (Detroit) head to pro camps.
That opens up a little more ice time for the remaining players, but there could be more cuts before a two-game tourney in Kennewick.
“Every day is important in evaluation,” Nachbaur said. “There are drills; we’re watching different facets of their games, how they react to new coaches, their comprehension of the systems we’re trying to implement. The other side is competing and work ethic. The more we see, the more read we get on them.”
One 15-year old, Tyler Cunningham, a defenseman taken in the first round of the bantam draft, is still with the team although he can only play five games. There are also four 16-year olds, including 2009 first-round bantam pick Reid Gow, another defenseman.
There are two other No. 1 picks, 17-year old Mitch Holmberg, who played in Spokane last year, and 18-year old Mike Betz.
The rest of the breakdown, the ages determined by the year of birth, are 10 17- and 18-year olds, seven 19-year olds and three 20-year olds – Johnson, Koper and James Reid, who is the returning starting goaltender.
Reid is one of four goalies, including last year’s backup Michael Tadjdeh (19), Chris Sharkey (18) and Mac Engel (17). There are 12 defenseman and 19 forwards.
After the Tri-City tournament the Chiefs play at Kennewick on Sept. 17 and host Kootenay at Eagles Ice-A-Rena on Sept. 18. They open the regular season at Tri-City on Sept. 25 with the home opener against the Americans Oct. 2.
A majority of the players sent home were 15 and 16 years old, but head scout Chris Moulton was still smiling.
“I’m a lot happier now,” he said. “Coming into the year you just don’t know. You just drafted the ’95s (the 15-year olds) and your ’94s (16-year olds) are supposed to take a step up, but you really don’t know until they’re here. Now that they’ve been here, I’m excited.
“The ’94s, they all took a step, they’ve all progressed. Some are going to play, some that aren’t are going to play at 17. I’m very comfortable now. I’m excited two years from now, that’s when the younger guys really start to make a move.”
Get your tickets
Tickets for the outdoor game at Avista Stadium on Jan. 15 go on sale today. Prices range from $25 to $100. The Chiefs expect about 6,900 seats to be available. Season-ticket holders purchased more than 2,000 seats and fans of the opponent Kootenay Ice have claimed a couple hundred more.