Willick plays way into NHL draft contention
By Alistair McInnis, Prince George Free Press
The Kamloops Blazers wouldn’t have missed the Western Hockey League playoffs had their position in the standings increased like Dylan Willick’s point total.
In a team sport like hockey, organizations overshadow individuals. A second-year Blazers’ forward, Willick deserves credit for managing to take a step forward while more focus has been on the team’s struggles.
Willick, an 18-year-old Prince George product, recorded 44 points in the 2010-2011 regular season.
The total was an improvement over the 29 he collected as a rookie in 2009-10.
The most noticeable difference is in goals, where Willick’s 24 is twice as many as the previous season. And a benefit to the Blazers has been his durability, as he’s missed only one of 144 regular season games in the WHL.
While the stats don’t stack up to the WHL scoring leaders, they’ve helped raise Willick’s stock value.
Scouts have noticed the change. Left off the 210-player list of domestic skaters on Central Scouting’s mid-season rankings in January, his name is now being thrown around as a possible mid-round selection at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in June.
“I did everything that I could this year,” said Willick, an alternate captain on the Blazers. “I left it all on the ice and I’m confident in that, and really now it’s just kind of up to them.”
For his efforts during the 2010-2011 campaign, Willick was the recipient of two team awards. He was named the unsung hero and shared the most dedicated award with 17-year-old forward Colin Smith.
Willick has also shown his ability to rise to the occasion when odds are stacked against him.
In a wild 6-5 shootout victory for the Blazers against the Medicine Hat Tigers on Feb. 25, part of a Blazers’ five-game Alberta road swing, Willick scored two late goals — 35 seconds apart — to force overtime.
The Blazers scored four consecutive third-period goals that game, all on the power play, to come back from a 5-1 deficit.
The victory over Medicine Hat was part of a successful Central Division road trip which saw the Blazers pick up four wins and an overtime defeat in five games. The run helped them climb back into the playoff race.
“We kind of expected a bit more coming home and then we went into a pretty bad slide to finish off the season, unfortunately,” Willick said.
“That’s just kind of how it went. Personally, I hit most of the numbers that I was looking for anyway.”
Kamloops had an opportunity to get into the playoffs entering their final two games, home-and-home dates with the Prince George Cougars on March 18 and March 19.
Much to the Blazers’ chagrin, the Cougars won the first game of the set 3-2 in a shootout, a result which eliminated Kamloops from postseason contention with one game remaining.
With a 5-1 loss to the Cougars at CN Centre, the Blazers finished the season with a record of 29 wins, 37 losses, three overtime setbacks and three shootout defeats (29-37-3-3).
They finished tied with the Seattle Thunderbirds in points with 64, but ended up ninth in the 10-team Western Conference standings for picking up two more wins.
The point total was a reduction of seven from the previous year, when they entered the playoffs in seventh with a 32-33-2-5 mark.
With seven wins and one loss against the Blazers, the Cougars won the eight-game season series in a landslide.
“When you got a division team like that, a division rivalry, you have to at least be 50-50 with them and they kind of ruined that for us,” Willick said.
With his parents Blaine and Melissa planning a move to Kamloops from Prince George this offseason, Willick will have extra support when training camp for the Blazers’ 2011-2012 season gets underway later this summer.
On the ice, Willick expects improvement.
“I feel like if we pick up the right guys in the offseason, make a couple of deals here and there, then obviously we’ll be a contending team with the core that we have there.”