Monday, November 23, 2009

Wintoneak a real student of the game

From the Nov. 20th Star Phoenix.

Saskatoon Blades forward Walker Wintoneak sees the ice better than most -- and his new contact lenses are only partially responsible.

Using his superb hockey sense, Wintoneak has become one of the most well-rounded players in the WHL.

"His ability to read the game is one of the best that I've seen," raves Blades coach-GM Lorne Molleken. "He anticipates well, both offensively and defensively, and that's one of his biggest strengths."

The 20-year-old winger has been soaking up hockey strategy since he was knee-high to a net cam. Born in Thunder Bay, Ont., Wintoneak gravitated to the rink where his father, Larry, coached both junior A and senior hockey.

While some kids were watching cartoons, Wintoneak was studying film.

"My dad used to always watch Stanley Cup final videos and break them down," says Wintoneak. "I just kind of sat there and watched them with him. He taped pretty much every playoff game."

The Wintoneaks moved to Flin Flon in the mid-1990s when Larry was hired to coach the SJHL's Bombers. Now both father and son are plying their trades in Saskatchewan -- Larry as the head coach of the Kindersley Klippers and Walker as a fourth-year member of the Blades.

Walker Wintoneak might not dazzle anyone with his skating ability, but he gets where he needs to go.

"He's a guy who finishes his checks and he goes to the tough areas," says Molleken. "He'll pay a price to score and he'll pay a price to prevent the opposition from scoring. He's just an honest player."

Wintoneak led the Blades with 31 goals last season and is on pace for 41 this season, having netted 13 in 22 games so far.

"Last year I kind of surprised myself," says Wintoneak, who scored a total of 19 goals in his first two WHL seasons. "I think me and (linemate Gaelan Patterson) surprised each other. We both picked up our games at the same time and Patty ended up getting drafted (in the seventh round by the Calgary Flames), so I'm happy for him.

"I think we were both pretty worried coming into camp last year that we might get traded or something like that."

Even after that breakout campaign, Wintoneak's future with the Blades wasn't assured this season. He was one of five players competing for three overage spots. Captain Derek Hulak was a lock for one job, so that left Wintoneak, defenceman Sam Klassen, centre Milan Kytnar and winger Chris Langkow to battle for two spots.

Wintoneak might have started the competition as an underdog, but he quickly proved his value.

"When we were debating who to trade, he had like 12 points in three games," says Molleken.

The odd men out ended up being Langkow and Kytnar; Langkow was dealt to the Everett Silvertips and Kytnar to the Vancouver Giants. Wintoneak isn't resting easy, though, and the Blades are the beneficiaries of his continued motivation.

"As soon as the trade deadline passes (in January) I'll be happy," says Wintoneak. "You never know what could happen."

BLADE BITS: The Blades (18-3-0-3) won't have D Dalton Thrower in their lineup tonight when they visit the Moose Jaw Warriors (15-8-1-0). The North Vancouver product has returned home to recover from bronchitis. . . . Three Blades -- Thrower, D Duncan Siemens and C Brent Benson -- have been invited to the under-17 World Hockey Challenge which begins Dec. 29 in Timmins, Ont. Thrower and Siemens are part of Team Pacific, while Benson is on Team West. The Team West roster also includes Blades goaltending prospect Tyler Oswald, who is playing midget AAA in Manitoba with the Pembina Valley Hawks.

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