Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Conor Geekie needed a place to play and feels fortunate to have found a favourable landing spot.
The 16-year-old centre from Strathclair is the latest high-profile, junior-aged player to make alternate playing arrangements for the start of the 2020-21 hockey season. He’s been billetted in Virden for the last week and, beginning Friday, will start training camp with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Oil Capitals. The Caps recently acquired his rights from the Winnipeg Blues.
With the start of Western Hockey League regular season delayed until at least Dec. 4, Geekie has opted for what he hopes is a temporary stay in the MJHL. The league has been cleared to open a reduced 40-game regular season on Oct. 9, employing a new divisional format to reduce the pandemic health risks.
"I’m going to try and play in Virden — that’s the goal and go to school here — until November. That’s the plan," said Geekie via telephone after an informal skate in Virden on Wednesday.
Geekie, picked second overall in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft by the Winnipeg Ice, was a lock to earn a roster spot with the WHL team this fall.
In 2019-20, he missed a large chunk of his season with the Yellowhead Under-18 Chiefs after a bout of mononucleosis but still managed to register 19 goals and 38 points in 30 games. He also suited up for seven games with the Ice as an affiliate.
Geekie understands the start of the WHL season is still in flux.
"We have no idea, I’m pretty lucky to be 16," he said. "Otherwise I’d probably have to go overseas like a couple of other guys or just practise and nobody wants to just practise."
Oil Caps general manager/head coach Tyson Ramsey welcomed the arrival of Geekie and 17-year-old forward Braeden Lewis, whose WHL rights belong to the Swift Current Broncos.
Lewis, a Virden product who played with the Southwest Under-18 Cougars last season, suited up for one game with the Broncos as an affiliate.
"You can look at it from one point of view that it’s a disruption to our team (when a player leaves at mid-season) but the other side of it is these are just kids and they’re playing hockey and they’ve got some goals and aspirations," said Ramsey. "It’s not their fault that the situation’s changed. We want to do what we can to work with the guys we have here and we’re going to do that."
Ramsey is bringing the league maximum of 34 players to training camp, including 16 returnees.
Virden’s overage complement is currently at five, with high-scoring forward Hunter Cloutier in the mix. Ramsey is unsure if he will carry the league limit of six 20-year-olds.
Among four goalies attending, 19-year-old veteran Kyle Kozma is the lone veteran coming back.
JOINING THE MILLIONAIRE CLUB: Chase Bertholet, another Ice prospect positioned to crack the WHL roster this fall, will start his season with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Melville Millionaires.
The 17-year-old right-winger from The Pas spent 2019-20 with the Prince Albert (Sask.) AAA Under-18 Mintos but performed well as a call-up with the Ice, registering one assist in nine games.
ON THE MOVE: The Regina Pats have given their approval for No. 1 overall pick Connor Bedard to relocate to Sweden where he will train with HV71, a junior club in Jonkoping, until the WHL starts its regular season.
The 15-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., was granted exceptional status earlier this year by Hockey Canada and was slated to play regularly in the WHL this season.
However, the agreement with HV71 does not permit Bedard to play games while he’s in Europe.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.