By Bruce Fuhr,
The Nelson Daily Sports Editor
After being the face of Nelson Leafs’ franchise for the past five years, Simon Wheeldon pictured himself spending time this coming hockey season in a rink, watching the game he so deeply loves.
However, the plan had the former European hockey star taking a position in the stands and not behind the player’s bench.
That all changed during the summer when it was rumoured the Kootenay Ice Major Midget Hockey team was close to extinction. Wheeldon couldn’t see that happening and decided to make a comeback as coach of the Ice.
“I heard that B.C. Hockey couldn’t find a coach and was going to cancel the program,” Wheeldon told The Nelson Daily earlier this week. “So I called B.C. Hockey and asked if I could coach the team.”
Of course Wheeldon had a vested interest in this decision. His son Adam Wheeldon had played on the team last season and was most likely going to be a part of the program again.
But just as luck would have it Adam Wheeldon excelled during the junior training camp season, first in Trail at the tryout of the B.C. Hockey League Smokies, and, second the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Nelson Leafs. The latter thought so highly of the younger Wheeldon the coaching staff made him one of the two 16-year-old players.
“(Adam) worked very hard this summer, grew a little and had some good camps,” the elder Wheeldon explained.
So Simon Wheeldon once again assumes the position as coach on the eve of the Major Midget season. “I’m really encouraged by the talent of this group, especially the first year kids,” Wheeldon said when asked about this year’s edition of the Ice.
“The expectations I have is to see this group of kids develop into a hockey team, get better and see what happens in the league,” he adds. “
The Ice has four Nelson Minor Hockey grads on the team — defencemen Matthew Carr and Joren Johnson and forwards Carsen Willans and Dryden Hunt. Hunt played last season at Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan.
While the rest of the BCMMHL opened the season, Kootenay Ice played a pair of exhibition games against the Okanagan Hockey Association in Nelson.
The Ice opened the two-game set looking pretty good after dropping a 4-3 decision. Andy Miller from Trail and Hunt, with his first of two in the game, gave the Ice a 2-1 lead after one frame. The teams were tied at 3-3 after 40 minutes.
OHA scored the only goal of the third period to steal the one-goal victory.
In game two, Kootenay took on the chin losing 6-1. OHA took a 2-0 lead after the first period. Hunt cut the margin to 2-1. But the visitors struck for two goals within a minute during the second to put the game away.
Kootenay opens the Major Midget season Saturday in Nanaimo against the North Island Silvertips.
“This is by far the youngest team in the league,” said Wheeldon, faced with the fact that most high-level local players will play for a KIJHL team — which has four franchises within a 50-mile radius. “So this kids are going to have to learn to be resilient and mentally tough to compete in this league.”
Last season, the Kootenay Ice, coached by Brent Petrick, had its most successful season finishing ninth with an 11-28-1 record.
The Kootenay Ice is part of the 11-team BCMMHL. Most of the Ice players are from Nelson, Trail and Castlegar with a few from the East Kootenay and Midway.
The first home game for the Ice is Saturday, October 2 when Kootenay plays host to the Okanagan Rockets at the NDCC Arena.