The St. Albert Steel were left reeling last week when their most gifted player asked to be traded and their number one goalie walked out on the team.
"It is what it is," said head coach/general manger Greg Parks. "We still have a group of guys that are 100 per cent committed to our program. We've met with everyone, 20-year-olds included, and no one else wants to be moved. They all enjoy it here and right now we're just moving forward."
Dan Carr, 18, was granted his trade request and was shipped off to the Powell River Kings of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League for centre Steve Axford, 18, and future considerations. The Victoria product had one goal, two assists and eight penalty minutes in 33 games with Powell River.
Brought on board to replace netminder Mark Kotylak, 20, was Richard Gagnon from the Saddle Lake Warriors. Gagnon was 13-7 with a 4.49 GAA in the North Eastern Alberta Junior B Hockey League.
"It's never a good thing when you lose one of your top scorers and your starting goalie in one week but we have the confidence in our team that we've got the guys here that we can make a run with the personnel we have right now," said assistant captain Alex Perkins. "It's tough to see guys move on and it's tough to lose guys but at the end of the day this is what we've got to work with so there is no sense dwelling on it."
Carr, a third-year Steel left-winger, was second in team scoring and sixth overall in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with 54 points, on 24 goals and 30 assists in 30 games, when he was dealt to Powell River, ranked third in the coastal conference at 21-11-1-5.
In 151 games with the Steel, Carr registered 67 goals (28 PP) and 69 assists.
Next season Carr is committed to the Union College Dutchmen, an NCAA division one team in the Eastern College Athletic Conference.
"He came to us and wanted to be moved. He wanted to play for a team that he felt would win more hockey games and go deep into the playoffs so we accommodated him," Parks said. "It's disappointing. I think the organization has done a lot for him. He has been exceptional for us as well, no doubt about that.
"All it does is create opportunities for other players. We pick up Steve Axford and he's going to have two and a half years with our team. Last year as a 17-year-old he was third place in junior B scoring on the Island. We'll also potentially get another player next year."
The loss of Kotylak was a big blow for the defensively challenged Steel.
"The timing of it is just brutal," Parks said. "It definitely puts us in a real bad situation, no doubt about it."
In his first season as the Steel starter the former midget AAA St. Albert Raider posted a 10-13-3 record with one shutout, 4.10 GAA and .885 save percentage for the AJHL's fourth-worst defensive team.
"He was not having fun coming to the rink, I guess," Parks said. "He didn't have any confidence."
Kotylak was handed the starter's role on the eve of training camp as the Steel traded former Brooks Bandits goalie Braely Torris, 20, back to the Drayton Valley Thunder where he had played before.
"I tried to do the right thing at the start of the year with the local kid and traded away another 20-year-old and that certainly backfired," Parks said. "It's frustrating because it seems like you can never win. If we were to get rid of Mark at the start of the year I would've been crucified for getting rid of a local kid. Instead we handed it to him and he chooses to walk away.
"It hurts for sure. He was sitting at home two and a half years ago and we gave him an opportunity [to replace Dave Simpson as the backup to Scott MacInnis in the Steel's inaugural season] and now he is gone."
The Steel will now go with Chris Sharkey, 17, and Gagnon between the pipes. Sharkey showed signs of promise since joining the Steel in mid-October. As for Gagnon, the University of Alberta student was expected to start Tuesday against the visiting Fort McMurray Oil Barons but the score was unavailable at press time.
"We're lucky to have him. He was out east last year. He's got Royal Bank experience and had the best save percentage in Canada last year so the kid can play for sure," Parks said. "This year he just wanted to focus on school but we talked him into coming out. He will cut down his course load a little bit and most likely will join us for the rest of the season."
In other player developments, 18-year-old defenceman Bob Pond (2-3-5 in 27 games) was sent to the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for future considerations and 18-year-old forward Baxter Niziol (3-2-5 in 24 games) was acquired from the Olds Grizzlies after a stint with the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
"Bob is a great kid but he just wasn't going to get an opportunity to play all that much here so we had an opportunity to send him to Melville," Parks said. "We felt that with eight defencemen that was a little bit too much to keep everybody happy and everybody playing. We also needed an extra body up front and Baxter has been very good in his short time here."
Parks doesn't expect to make any more line-up changes as the AJHL roster freeze deadline draws closer.
"We've had a ton of calls on [Bryce] Williamson, Perkins, [captain Ryan] Edens – all of our 20-year-olds – but you know what? We're trying to be loyal and if guys want to stay, which they all have told me they want to, then we will certainly go down that road. I think it's real important when you commit to a player and a guy like Williamson [all-time Steel career scoring leader] has been here for all three years. He's been a big part of our team and it speaks well for our program when a guy like that wants to stay here. That's the kind of players we want here, guys that are 100 per cent committed to our program and I think we have that with the group of guys that are on our team right now."