There’s really only one person hoping Brenden Kichton doesn’t spend his overage season in Spokane, and that’s Brenden Kichton.
“Not because I don’t love Spokane – I love it here,” said the Western Hockey League’s reigning Western Conference defenseman of the year, who was among the nearly 70 players to take the ice on Thursday at the Arena as the Spokane Chiefs opened their annual training camp.
It’s easy to understand why, if Kichton has his way, he won’t be around much longer.
The New York Islanders prospect – whose season ended in the first round of the playoffs last season when he blocked a shot with his face and broke his jaw – is ready to play professional hockey. But he’s still waiting for his entry-level contract.
Wih a lockout hanging over the NHL, he’s not seeing any action on the negotiation front. He will, however, attend the Islanders’ American Hockey League affiliate’s camp in Bridgeport, and could end up with an offer to play there.
In the meantime, as one of four 20-year-olds on Spokane’s camp roster (the other three are D Davis Vandane, F Dylan Walchuk and F Blake Gal) – which will have to be three when the official roster is set for the season – Kichton is more motivated than ever.
“Since my inury was a face injury it didn’t affect my training at all,” Kichton said. “I’m 100 percent perfect, other than missing a couple teeth still.”
“Obviously I want to move on to professional hockey, but if I’m back for another year of junior, I’m just going to play even harder than I did last year,” he added. “I’d say there’s a 75 percent chance that I’ll be back all year, but when I go to Bridgeport, I want to prove to them that I belong there.”
There’s no question that Bridgeport’s loss would be Spokane’s gain.
“It’d be huge,” Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Moulton said. “If he’s back it automatically gives us who I think is the best defenseman in the (WHL). Kich brings so much to our program and makes our other defensemen better.”
Sawyer rejoins staff
Former Chiefs captain and assistant coach Kevin Sawyer will rejoin the team as an interim assistant coach while Don Nachbaur assists Canada’s coaching staff at the World Junior Hockey Championships this winter in Ufa, Russia.
Fourth-year assistant coach Jon Klemm will assume Nachbaur’s position as head coach while Nachbaur is at the World Juniors, which begin on Dec. 8 and wrap up in early January. Nachbaur could miss a total of 11 games.
Sawyer played three seasons for Spokane and eight seasons profesionally. He came back to Spokane in 2004 to spend two seasons as an assistant coach and in recent years has been the color commentator for Chiefs’ television broadcasts, as well as an annual guest coach at camp.
Familiar faces/missing faces
Among the 65 players – divided into three teams named after former captains Chris Bruton, Sawyer and Klemm – there were 17 veterans from last year on the ice, two acting as spectators while they nurse minor injuries, while two top young Chiefs’ prospects didn’t report altogether.
Goalie Mac Engel and European forward Marek Kalus, both 19-year-olds, are being kept off the ice and out of scrimmages. Kalus has an unspecified upper-body injury, while Engel suffered a high ankle sprain in a “freak accident over the summer,” Moulton said.
“If he had to play tomorrow, he could, but there’s no reason for us to rush him,” added Moulton.
Spokane’s first-round pick in last year’s WHL bantam draft, forward Tanner MacMaster, did not report to camp, nor did forward Rhett Gardner, the Chiefs’ second-round pick in 2011. Both will play with their respective bantam clubs.
“They just didn’t feel as a family that he was ready to play at 16, and we’re ok with that,” Moulton said of MacMaster. “It’s pretty much the same situation for Rhett.”
The three teams will each play two scrimmages each day today and Saturday. Camp concludes with the Red-White game on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Arena. All ice sessions through the weekend are free and open to the public. … Former Chiefs goalie Luke Lee-Knight is at training camp with U.S. Division rival Tri-City.