Friday, September 25, 2015
CRIM FOCUSED ON CAPTURING M.C. AFTER TURNING DOWN LEAFS
Several media reports said the three-time WHL executive of the year was being courted by the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs for a front-office position. Toronto had fired general manager Dave Nonis and the majority of his staff following a lacklustre season.
In the end, McCrimmon decided to say with a contending WHL team, rather than join an NHL club at the start of a lengthy rebuild.
"We've got an opportunity I think with our team this year to have a real strong season,'' McCrimmon said in a phone interview. "We return the core of our team and based on that, the timing wasn't quite what it needed to be for me to be comfortable (leaving).
"It was a great opportunity certainly and one that would have been very challenging and exciting, but after going through it at great length, I didn't feel that this was the time to leave the Wheat Kings.''
With 18 players eligible to return, Brandon enters the season with plenty of promise.
The Wheat Kings were the league's regular season champions with a 53-11-8 record and cruised through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Ten players had a taste of NHL training camps recently and five are still away with their respective franchises.
One of the players currently at NHL camp is defenceman Ivan Provorov. The 18-year-old from Yaroslavl, Russia, dazzled in his rookie season, leading all rookies with 61 points in 60 games. Those totals also saw him finish fourth in league scoring for a defenceman.
At the world junior championship, Provorov was Russia's youngest member and helped them to a silver medal. His stellar season didn't go unnoticed at June's NHL draft, with the Philadelphia Flyers selecting him seventh overall.
"Real complete player,'' McCrimmon said. "Very good offensively, very good defensively, very good in transition. Great skater, excellent person, competitive, consistent, really a great defenceman that from really early in his rookie season took a large role in our team and only got better and better as the season went on.''
Up front, McCrimmon is looking for 19-year-old players such as Jayce Hawryluk and John Quenneville to be core contributors. Hawryluk is a Florida Panthers draft pick and had 65 points in 54 games last year. Quenneville was drafted 30th overall by the New Jersey Devils in the 2014 NHL Draft and scored 10 goals in 19 playoff games last season.
Both Hawryluk and Quenneville also attended Hockey Canada's junior summer development camp. They will be vying for a spot on the Canadian squad - with McCrimmon as an assistant coach - that will look to defend their gold medal in Helsinki, Finland.
Not only do the Wheat Kings have veteran leadership, but they also have an abundance of young talent.
Forwards Nolan Patrick and Tanner Kaspick and defenceman Kale Clague recently helped Canada win gold at the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
The WHL opens its 50th season on Thursday in Moose Jaw with the Warriors hosting the Regina Pats. The Wheat Kings open their season on Friday at home against the Swift Current Broncos.
McCrimmon is no stranger to Memorial Cup appearances with three under his belt, including one as a player, one as a GM and another as a head coach/GM. He said the Wheat Kings will need to build off of the consistency they had last season in order to make it to the ultimate major junior hockey competition.
"We wanted to continue to build on those expectations where you're expecting to have success, expected to win every night,'' McCrimmon said.
"And I think at the same time we also need to learn and benefit from the league final where Kelowna were better than we were. So I think all the experience from last season helps our team prepare for this year, recognize where we have to play well and also where we need to improve.''