Kope plugs hole on defensive unit
Peter Kope has found a home on the Camrose Kodiak’ blue-line. Sean Mascaluk/ Pro Sports Photography
The Camrose Kodiaks have searched long and far for top defencemen this year, but maybe the best answer was just waiting for the return of a rookie from the Western Hockey League.
Peter Kope started this season as an 18-year-old trying to crack the Kodiaks’ lineup, but after two games was called up to the Prince George Cougars. Almost a month to the day later he was sent back down to the Alberta Junior Hockey League club as they were hitting the depths of their 11-game losing streak. He has been a big part of their turn around over the last six games, including splitting a two-game road trip this past weekend, a 5-4 win over the Grande Prairie Storm on Friday and a 1-0 loss to the Whitecourt Wolverines.
“I think we’re just starting to trust each other,” said Kope. “I think we’re trusting each other and where we’re supposed to be on the ice and how the systems are supposed to be played. We you do things like that it makes the game a lot easier for all of us.”
Kope is just part of the whole picture of their defensive turnaround over the last three weeks, but he is a major piece of that movement. He scored two goals in the Kodiaks win over the Storm and has acquitted himself well in all parts of the game, showing his reliability as head coach and general manager Boris Rybalka turned to him late against Whitecourt as they pushed for the tying goal.
“The biggest thing is he can help us in all aspects of the game,” said Rybalka. “We knew it would take a little bit for him to get adjusted and get into shape … We just see a lot of things for him, and even him becoming one of the key leaders on the back end for us.”
For the six-foot-one, 200-pound blue-liner it is all about development. An eventual return to the WHL is not out of the question, but he is more focused on carving out a home on the Kodiaks blue-line. He was a fifth-round draft pick of the Cougars in the WHL Bantam draft in 2014, and offence has always been a big part of his game. In his final game of midget last year with the Canadian Athletic Club out of Edmonton, he scored 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 30 games.
Kope says the biggest thing he has to improve is his acceleration.
“When I get going I feel like I’m quite fast, but sometimes my acceleration could be quite a bit quicker,” he said. “I feel like (my game) is coming together here. At the start I was a little uncomfortable, I didn’t play too much during the season and I hadn’t played in a while. Now I’m getting comfortable with the system and getting chemistry with my teammates, so it’s all up hill from here.”
With his five games in the WHL, he lost his NCAA eligibility, but he is still eligible for Canadian universities and colleges, which Rybalka says is still a great option for many players, it often comes down to best fit for the players.
Still, there is a big part of Kope that wants to pursue a pro career. The Kodiaks have made a habit of over the years of developing NHLer with the most recent being defenceman Kyle Stollery, who opted to sign in the KHL this season and is now in contention for the Canadian Olympic team with fellow Kodiaks alum Mason Raymond.
“The top goal is still to try and eventually go pro,” he said. “There’s been a lot of big names through here on this team and hopefully Boris can help me get to the next level as he has with so many players.”
This week the Kodiaks host the Calgary Mustangs (12-13-2) on Thursday at 7 p.m., the Lloydminster Bobcats (8-16-1) on Saturday 7 p.m. and the Spruce Grove Saints (18-5-1) on Sunday at 2 p.m. Sunday’s game will also be their Caricature Game in which they will be selling caricatures drawn of players and coaches by Simon Glassman out of Edmonton to raise money for the Camrose Arts Society. Fans can also have the chance to get their own portraits sketched.
“We want to raise as much money as we can for them,” said Rybalka. “The arts are a huge thing in our community … and we want to support them, they do great work in our community and this is a way we can give back to the Arts Society.”
NOTES — Camrose Kodiaks forwards and Camrose natives Kyler Kupka and Jacob Kendall have been invited to tryouts for the Canada West team for the 2017 World Junior A Challenge. There will be 40 players at camp in Calgary from Dec. 2-5.