The Western Hockey League bantam draft gets under way this morning in Calgary, and the Tri-City Americans will draft seventh — their highest selection since trading up to pick Connor Rankin seventh overall in 2009.
“I’d prefer to pick in the 20s,” said Americans general manager Bob Tory. “When you are picking seventh, your season wasn’t quite what you wanted. We feel we will get a good player at No. 7. We will get the best we can. The draft is very important, but so is the development of the players.”
The Americans will have no picks in the second round, but have two in the third, one in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the sixth and none in the seventh. They have one pick in rounds 8-13, should they opt to use them.
“It’s always best player available,” Tory said of drafting players. “By the time they join your team, your needs have changed.”
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There will be just 21 picks among the 22 WHL teams in the first round. Portland had its first-round pick revoked as part of league sanctions levied against the Winterhawks in 2012. But Portland will pick in the first round (19th overall) after acquiring Calgary’s pick.
According to a WHL scouting report provided to The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the top two players available today are forwards Jordy Bellerive of the North Shore Winter Club, and Stelio Mattheos of the Winnipeg Monarchs.
With the seventh pick, those two likely will be gone, but high-scoring forward Zane Franklin of Lloydminster, Alberta, might still be on the board.
“He was captain of his team (Lloydminster Heat Bantam AAA), he scored a lot (47 goals, 42 assists in 27 games) and he’s a hard-working quality player,” Tory said. “This year it’s different from years past. There aren’t just one or two elite players, there are a lot of good players.”
Tory and his staff were meeting for dinner Wednesday for one last look at their options. Included in that group are Barclay Parneta, Terry Bangen and former Tri-City goalie Luke Lee-Knight, who lives in Calgary.
“We have all of our staff here at the table,” Tory said. “Luke Lee-Knight is joining us to give us some advice, he is familiar with some of these kids.”
Lee-Knight also came through on a personal level for Bangen on Wednesday, who needed an emergency root canal. Lee-Knight’s dad Todd did the procedure.
“I think he is having soup for dinner,” Tory said of Bangen. “We are having steak.”
HAND OVER THE HARDWARE: The WHL handed out their annual awards Wednesday, but former Americans captain Mitch Topping was shut out for a second consecutive year as Humanitarian of the Year.
“When I first started playing in Tri, I wanted to get involved in the community,” Topping said. “Tri has become a second home for me. That I have left my mark off the ice is rewarding.”
Moose Jaw’s Sam Fioretti won the award. His platform included speaking out about bullying and educating area students on the importance of physical activity and healthy eating.
Topping and former teammate Justin Feser formed Making Awareness a Top Priority to Fes Out Muscular Dystrophy last season. They kept the charity alive this season and again raised several thousand dollars.
Topping has been involved in many charitable organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Second Harvest, school reading programs, working with animals at the Humane Society, helping area youth learn to skate and play hockey, hospital visits, Salvation Army Kettle Drives and Special Olympics.
Topping will continue his hockey career at the University of Alberta in the fall.
“I have the same feelings I did entering the WHL,” Topping said of the move to college hockey. “You are the baby again. I’ll earn my stripes in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport).”
WHL AWARD WINNERS: Player of the Year — Four Broncos Memorial Trophy: Sam Reinhart, Kootenay Ice. Rookie of the Year — Nick Merkley, Kelowna Rockets. Goaltender of the Year — Jordon Cooke, Kelowna Rockets. Defenseman of the Year — Derrick Pouliot, Portland Winterhawks. Most Sportsmanlike Player of the Year — Sam Reinhart, Kootenay Ice. Scholastic Player of the Year — Nelson Nogier, Saskatoon Blades. Humanitarian of the Year — Sam Fioretti, Moose Jaw Warriors. Coach of the Year — Dave Lowry, Victoria Royals. Executive of the Year — Cam Hope, Victoria Royals. WHL Marketing/Business Award — Seattle Thunderbirds.
TAKE A SEAT, AGAIN: Portland’s Brendan Leipsic will miss the opening game of the WHL finals Saturday against the Edmonton Oil Kings after being suspended one game for a spearing major and a game misconduct against Kelowna on April 25. It is the third suspension for Leipsic this season. He received seven games in December for a match penalty against Seattle, and three games for a hit on Tri-City’s Taylor Vickerman on Sept. 24.
NEW OWNERS: The WHL Board of Governors voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the sales of the Prince George Cougars and the Regina Pats.
The Cougars, owned by Rick Brodsky since they moved to Prince George in 1994, were bought by local businessman Greg Pocock along with partners Ernest Ouellet, Raymond Fortier and John Pateman. Former Cougars and current NHL players Dan Hamhuis and Eric Brewer are also key members of the new ownership group.
The Pats, owned by Russ and Diane Parker for the last 19 years, were sold to an ownership group led by local businessman Anthony Marquart. The other members of the Queen City Sports and Entertainment group include Todd Lumbard, Gavin Semple, Shaun Semple, and Jason Drummond.
Both sales are expected to be completed by the end of May.