While all the focus was on those in attendance at Kootenay Ice training camp, a selection of top prospects were nowhere to be seen on opening day at Western Financial Place.
Defenceman Griffin Mendel (1999), goaltender Jakob Walter (1999) and forward Keenan Taphorn (2000) represent the top three selections from the previous two WHL Bantam Drafts for the Kootenay Ice. All three were noticeably missing from Monday’s festivities.
“At this point, I definitely wish they were here playing against some of the best players because they are some of the best players out there,” said Garnet Kazuik, director of scouting for the Kootenay Ice. “Obviously we’re going to keep working on trying to get them all here at some point.
“They would definitely be a big part of our organization moving forward. You just talked about three very young, important pieces. You put three people into your roster in their prime years and they become impact players.”
Mendel, a first-round pick (11th overall) at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft from Kelowna, committed to the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) back in May. His absence comes as no surprise. Mendel played at Okanagan Hockey Academy last year.
For Walter, the situation appears much the same.
The 16-year-old Langley native was drafted next in line after Mendel in 2014 (second round, 33rd). Though he committed to the Campbell River Storm of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and was expected to also attend training camp with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL, Kazuik and the Ice believed Walter was going to make an appearance in Cranbrook before settling in elsewhere.
“We were left to the understanding he was going to be here,” Kazuik said. “There was a little bit of miscommunication from the family to the player representative to myself. All three of us were accountable for all of it.
“[Jakob] just wants to be where he’s going to be able to play. He knows he probably wasn’t going to be able to make this hockey team this year.
“He’s just trying to put his best forward and we’re okay with that. As long as he gets to play and he’s developing, that’s great.”
According to Kazuik, Walter has indicated “absolutely” that he wants to play in the WHL, which is an encouraging sign for an organization that will be in need of goaltending depth once 20-year-old Wyatt Hoflin ages out following the 2015-16 campaign.
With Taphorn, the circumstance is more complicated.
The Yorkton, Sask., native was the top pick for the Ice at the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, going in the second round, 34th overall.
Twin brother Kaeden was selected in the third round, 47th overall, by the Vancouver Giants.
While Keenan did not report to Ice camp in Cranbrook, it has also been reported that brother Kaeden did not report to Giants camp across the province.
According to Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager of the Kootenay Ice, the Taphorn family wants to see the brothers together with the same organization.
Until then, the twins are set to play Midget ‘AAA’ in Yorkton this coming season. What transpires from there remains to be seen.