Late bloomers give Ams boost

By Annie Fowler, Herald staff writerMarch 12, 2010 

As a Saskatchewan farm boy, Kruise Reddick knows the value of hard work.

When it comes to playing hockey, Reddick parlayed that hard work into a roster spot with the Tri-City Americans.

"It all comes down to not giving up," said the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Reddick, who was listed by the Americans in July 2005. "My parents taught me that if it doesn't come your way, work harder and it eventually will."

Reddick, along with fellow forwards Johnny Lazo, Brendan Shinnimin and Mason Wilgosh and goaltender Drew Owsley all fall into the same category -- ignored in the Western Hockey League bantam draft because of their small stature.

All five were placed on the Americans' 50-man protected list between 2005 and 2007, and all have made a huge impact with the Americans and in the WHL this season.

"The bantam draft is just one aspect of forming a team," said Tri-City general manager Bob Tory. "The draft is to keep teams equal. The last few years we have drafted late in the rounds and you never know what kind of player you will get. You are drafting guys who are 14 years old. Some develop later and some have different interests in a year or two. Kids who don't get drafted shouldn't be upset. When you get to camp everything is equal -- you have to fight for ice time."

Reddick, in his fourth season, has been with the Americans the longest. He ranks sixth in team scoring with 52 points, including 18 goals.

"We first saw Kruise at a U-16 tournament and immediately put him on our list," Tory said. "He surprised everyone when he made the team at 16. Shinnimin has worked extremely hard to get where he's at and Johnny was always a good player, just smaller. Mason is a character guy who takes what's handed to him. All of these guys are important and they give our team depth."

First-year coach Jim Hiller said list players bring an element to the team that drafted players don't.

"Those players are here because they earned it -- they fought to get here," Hiller said. "They fly under the radar and they have to earn their ice time. They bring that level of perseverance to the team. That's a credit to our scouts, getting ahead of the curve and seeing their potential."

Reddick, who arrived at camp looking to spend a week, worked hard enough to impress former coach Don Nachbaur and the staff.

"I don't think it ever matter that I wasn't drafted," said Reddick, who hails from the village of Manor, Saskatchewan (pop. 305). "I wanted to prove I should have been. They didn't want me -- I worked hard and proved everyone wrong."

As did Shinnimin, who along with Lazo and Wilgosh is from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"I thought I had a pretty good bantam year, but I was small and that was a big knock against me," Shinnimin said. "No one called me before the draft. I watched the draft and didn't get taken. I got a few letters from teams to go to camp and I decided to come here. I had friends who had come here. I was just trying to get listed. I guess they liked what they saw."

During his rookie season last year, the 5-9, 175-pound Shinnimin had 12 goals and 13 assists. This season, he leads the team in scoring with 80 points -- 27 goals and a team-high 53 assists. His 80 points ranks him 14th in the league in scoring.

"No one wanted to take a chance on us small guys, but we have (the) speed and skill that is essential to being an elite player in this league," Shinnimin said.

Lazo, the elder statesman of the group at 20, got a late start in the WHL, coming in at 18.

"I really didn't consider playing in the WHL," said Lazo, who admits he is generously listed at 5-7. "I was considering the NCAA. When they listed me I was skeptical -- why now? Talking to (Tyler) Schmidt, (Eric) Mestery and Chetter (Chet Pickard) made my decision easier. I have no regrets in coming here. The fans have been great and the team is great."

With his speed and nifty moves, Lazo is a dynamic player to watch. He is tied for eighth in the league in goals scored with 39 and is 26th in points with 70.

"Ever since my draft year, I was told I was too small," Lazo said. "But I've put that behind me."

Wilgosh always felt a little left out that a lot of his friends -- like Americans forward Adam Hughesman -- got drafted and he didn't. Wilgosh, Shinnimin and Hughesman had played on the same line with each other since they were 8 years old before Hughesman got drafted.

"Back in the day, the bigger guys were getting drafted," said the 5-8, 170-pound Wilgosh, in his third year with the team. "You'd like to think Tri-City is happy they picked up guys like us. Last year, Don (Nachbaur) encouraged me. The more you learn, the more you play."

While Reddick, Lazo and Shinnimin are prolific scorers, Wilgosh does the dirty work, playing on the checking line and working tirelessly on the penalty kill.

"I understand I'm not going to score goals," said Wilgosh, who has seven goals and 12 assists. "But when I kill off a penalty, it's the same feeling for me."

When Owsley walked into Toyota Center last season, he couldn't help but see the goalies who had come before him -- Olie Kolzig, Brian Boucher, Carey Price and Chet Pickard, who was still with the team. All were first-round NHL draft picks.

Owsley, all of 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, was invited to the Americans' training camp. If he didn't work out, he was expendable and no one would bat an eye.

"I knew they had a pretty good legacy with goalies," said Owsley, a native of Lethbridge, Alberta. "Those are tough shoes to fill. Last year was a big learning experience for me. I watched Chet in games and in practice and he helped me a lot."

Owsley appeared in 17 games last year, posting a 7-5 record with a 2.94 goals against average and an .881 save percentage. Not exactly the numbers you want to see from guy who might be your starting netminder the following season.

"Over the summer they told me to come in this year and want the job -- I worked pretty hard. At the start of camp I had to come in and make a good impression. We had a good team coming back and I wanted to be the one filling Chet's shoes."

Owsley has exceeded expectations. In 50 games, he is 33-11-1-1 with a 2.51 GAA, a .918 save percentage and four shutouts. He ranks third in the WHL in wins, fifth in GAA and save percentage and seventh in shutouts.

"You look at all five of us and we are pretty small and that can get you overlooked," Owsley said. "We have all made contributions to the team. Sometimes it makes you wonder why we weren't drafted."

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