WHL Cup tournament a dream event for league scouts
The pandemic, as everyone knows, has forced the postponement of many sporting events.
Included among those events is the 2021 WHL bantam draft, which normally would have been held in the spring but was pushed ahead to December.
Because second-year bantam hockey players from the four western provinces and some western states were barely able to play during the 2020-21 season, there were few chances for WHL scouts to evaluate the athletes prior to the draft.
This 2021 version of the WHL Cup — currently underway at the Peavey Mart Centrium — will serve as a major opportunity for the evaluators to check out the top 2006-born players eligible for the draft.
The tournament, with the premier bantam players from BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba competing on provincial teams, has always been held in the fall — with the exception of last year’s event, which was cancelled — and has featured players already taken in the draft.
But neither of the last two years, obviously, has been normal.
This year’s WHL Cup has attracted scouts from each of the league’s 22 teams, with most clubs having multiple evaluators on hand.
Clearly, it’s a tournament that gives the scouts the best read on the majority of the top players available in the 2021 draft.
“With us having the draft in December it’s nice to have all the best players at one event,” said Red Deer Rebels associate general manager Shaun Sutter. “There are some guys who for different reasons are not representing their province, but overall the bulk of the players are here and it’s good to be able to see them compete against each other.”
Normally at this time of year WHL scouts would be taking in bantam tournaments and league games to watch players of interest for the following year’s draft.
Of course, that wasn’t possible in 2020 and even this fall the majority — if not all — of the top prospects are competing at the midget AAA level.
“With the way it’s played out, we don’t have any tournaments this year. With these players playing midget, they play within their leagues,” said Sutter. “And with them being 15-year-olds some of them don’t get to play a lot or have different roles on different teams.
“For them to be able to come here and kind of be with their peer group, from the scouting and evaluation standpoint it’s nice to be able to see that and see the different levels of players when they’re playing against each other.”
Among Team BC’s top bantam draft prospects are Jordan Gavin and Thomas Mrsic of Surrey, Tij Iginla of Lake Country, Oliver Josephson of Victoria, Lynden Lakovic of West Kelowna, Marques Miguel of Prince George and Carson Wetsch of North Vancouver. All, with the exception of Josephson, are playing at academies.
Team Alberta defencemen Keith McInnis of Red Deer, Charlie Elick of Calgary, who is currently injured, and Tristen Doyle of Edmonton are also prime players of interest to the WHL scouts. All three are playing at academies.
Team Saskatchewan forwards Trae Wilke of Saskatoon and Cole Pearson of Outlook, along with defenceman Tarin Smith of Porcupine Plain, are among that province’s top players, while the skater favoured to go No. 1 overall in the draft, Berkly Catton of Saskatoon, is not at the tournament since he attends Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Minnesota.
All of the Saskatchewan players are competing at the midget AAA level.
Among Team Manitoba’s top draft prospects are blueliners Josh Fluker of Lockport and Jonas Woo of Winnipeg and forwards Clarke Caswell of Brandon and Gavin Hodnett of Winnipeg. Hodnett attends the Rink Academy while the other three are midget AAA players this season.
In Wednesday’s tournament openers, BC thumped Saskatchewan 8-1 and Alberta overcame a flurry of penalties to down Manitoba 6-2.
Gavin, with a pair of goals, Lakovic, Iginla, Josephson, Miguel Marques, Hiroki Gojsic and Carson Wetsch scored for BC, while netminder Jesse Sanchez made 15 saves.
Cole Pearson scored for Saskatchewan, which trailed 2-1 and 5-1 by periods. Chase Wutzke turned aside 41 shots.
In the later game, Alberta got two-goal efforts from Garrett Thom and Zane Saab, while singles came off the sticks of Sylvan’s Lake Caleb Hadland and Finn McLaughlin.
Team Alberta netminder Madden Mulawaka made 16 saves. Dmitri Fortin stopped 23 shots in the Manitoba net.
The WHL Cup continues Thursday with BC meeting Manitoba at 4 p.m. and Alberta facing Saskatchewan at 7 p.m. Both games are at the Centrium.
On Friday, Alberta will take on BC at 12:30 p.m. at the Centrium and Saskatchewan will go against Manitoba at 3:15 p.m. at the Red Deer Polytechnic Gary W. Harris Centre.
Saturday’s semifinals will go at 12:30 (Centrium) and 3 p.m. (Gary W. Harris), with the bronze-medal game to be played Sunday at 10 a.m. and the gold-medal contest to follow, both at the Centrium.
There is no admission charge for the tournament.