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Not frozen out: Spokane Chiefs players past, present take ice at Idaho rink during league shutdowns

UPDATED: Sun., May 31, 2020

Derek Ryan, forward for the Calgary Flames, moves the puck during an informal practice with Chiefs players on Thursday, May 28, 2020, at Frontier Ice Arena in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Derek Ryan, forward for the Calgary Flames, moves the puck during an informal practice with Chiefs players on Thursday, May 28, 2020, at Frontier Ice Arena in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Derek and Zane Ryan lugged hockey bags into Frontier Ice Arena on Thursday looking for something that local pros are finding pretty rare these days.


For Derek Ryan, who plays for the Calgary Flames, the opportunity is even more crucial, considering there remains a possibility the National Hockey League could resume play at some point this summer.

But it also meant something else for Ryan: time on the ice with his son.

“It’s fun that he’s getting old enough now that he can kind of stay out of the way a little bit,” Derek said of 6-year-old Zane. “He doesn’t realize how cool it is, too, just to come out here and skate. It’s mostly fun for me to be out there with him and see him try to do the drills that we’re doing, too. It’s a cool experience. It’s fun.”

At the same time, Ryan wanted to practice, and so Spokane Chiefs player Bear Hughes – whose father, Vince, manages the Arena – was on the ice with Ryan, too.

“It’s nice to have Bear out here, too, because he can keep up,” Ryan said, “and I’m not just trying to do drills with Zane.”

Ryan and Hughes weren’t the only two local athletes taking advantage of the available ice in Coeur d’Alene, which isn’t available everywhere in the country, with states reopening arenas along different timetables. A couple of hours earlier, 20 others, including some NHL players, scrimmaged as part of an offseason program with Power Edge Pro training.

At other times, area youth are skating as well. Some of them stuck around to watch the scrimmage from the arena lobby, taking in a sight that has been rare during the COVID-19 pandemic: live sports, even if there was no official score.

“It’s kind of nice. I came back from California, (where) there was no ice,” said Jake McGrew, who missed most of his age-20 season with the Spokane Chiefs due to a knee injury. “It’s nothing too intense. It’s a skate. Some guys haven’t been on the ice in two months.

“It’s good to get out. I wouldn’t call it a pickup game. I’d call it a pretty good scrimmage.”

Even if the NHL starts up again, McGrew, who is part of the San Jose Sharks organization, wouldn’t be playing because the Sharks aren’t among the 24 teams that would make the modified playoff currently proposed.

Neither would Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who played 53 games last year for the Los Angeles Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Ontario (California) Reign.

But Tyler Johnson’s Tampa Bay Lightning would be the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and Kailer Yamamoto with the Edmonton Oilers, seeded fifth, would open against the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks.

That makes this ice time all the more crucial for them, so much so that Johnson, who spends part of his offseason in CdA, came back from Florida because there was nowhere for him to skate.

“Down there I wasn’t skating at all, so I wanted to get back on the ice a little bit,” Johnson said.

The scrimmage was just one piece of their twice-weekly program, which some started participating in as soon as Idaho entered Stage Two of its reopening the week of May 16. In a normal summer, Tysen Azevedo, the U.S. director with Power Edge Pro, would organize a similar program for this group of players but would start it in June.

Azevedo grew up in Spokane and played with the Spokane Braves, of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, from 2005 to 2007. He has been a skills development coach – not just for pros but youth as well – for the last 12 years.

“It just helps with the youth players seeing these guys here every day,” Azevedo said. “It makes them want to come to the rink every day, and it’s fun for them because they get to see the pros go through it, the exact same thing they just did two hours earlier.”

Current Chiefs players Eli Zummack and James Porter Jr. are also part of the program. The goalie Porter, who went 8-2-0 with the Chiefs a season ago, drove more than an hour from his home in Bonners Ferry to take part.

“Oh yeah, it’s worth a lot, to skate with guys like this, NHLers,” Porter said.

The demand for ice time includes people from across the state. Vince Hughes said people from as far away as Seattle and Wenatchee have reserved ice time at Frontier.

It is a sign that hockey is striding toward normalcy, something players said is most welcome.

“There’s some great talent out here, lots of high-level skaters, so it’s really good to be surrounded by them,” Zummack said. “When you’re training with them, everything’s more high level. You get a lot out of it. It’s been great so far, and I’m looking forward to a great summer.”

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