By Woodard, Dale on February 14, 2020.
There are worse ways to spend parts of your rookie campaign in the Western Hockey League than playing alongside an NHL top-10 draft pick.
Go ask Chase Wheatcroft about that.
Enjoying a solid first year with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the product of Calgary has not only been rewarded with some top-six minutes, he’s also played alongside two of the leading scorers in the league.
The Hurricanes (33-12-2-5) are home tonight and Saturday as the 32-19-1-0 Winnipeg Ice visit the Enmax Centre at 7 p.m. both nights.
With six goals and 24 points in 48 games, the forward who went undrafted in the WHL bantam draft and signed with the Canes in December of 2018 has been afforded the chance to skate alongside Buffalo Sabres prospect and sixth overall draft selection Dylan Cozens as well as import forward Oliver Okuliar, who last week surpassed the 30-goal mark.
It’s made for a fun rookie campaign in the same city his father, Jim, played a few years back and who still returns to watch is son at each home game.
And that’s even if his son can’t resist a playful pot shot at exactly how long ago his dad used to play here.
“He’s implanted somewhere in here,” said Wheatcroft, wrapping up practice Thursday afternoon at the Enmax Centre. “He’s here for every single home game. He’s here all the time, he just loves me being here with how he used to be here. It’s pretty cool to be where he was, what was it, 75 years ago?”
Technically, 31 since Jim last played here, but who’s counting?
Mathematical embellishments aside, the forward who will turn 18 in May has soaked up every second he’s been pencilled in alongside the likes of Cozens.
“It’s been great,” said Wheatcroft. “I’ve gotten a lot of knowledge from the older guys and to be able to play with a top-10 draft pick with Dylan is something very special. I really cherish it and it was really fun to play with him. So far it has been really good.
“You have to take in everything he says when there’s a guy of that calibre telling you what’s going on. You just try to take in as much as you can and apply it to how you play the game and just watch him and take notes about him.”
No matter who he’s playing alongside, those key minutes have proven invaluable.
“It gains a lot of confidence being able to come into the league like this and play some top minutes,” said Wheatcroft. “I just have to keep going with it and our team has to continue rolling going in the playoffs and hopefully we can get some wins going down the stretch.”
Both the Hurricanes and Ice bring win streaks into the weekend series.
The Hurricanes have won four in a row to remain in second place in the Central Division, two points up on the Medicine Hat Tigers and six points back of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The Ice are winners of their last three and are tied with the 28-16-5-4 Prince Albert Raiders for top spot in the East Division.
NOTES – The Hurricanes have cracked the top-10 in the Canadian Hockey League rankings, moving into 10th spot. The Portland Winter Hawks (third), Oil Kings (fourth) and Everett Silvertips (seventh) are also in the CHL top-10 this week.