Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thorimbert picks Tigers over Blazers


Josh Thorimbert came to the fork in the road and chose not to take the one leading to Kamloops.
Thorimbert, a 6-foot-0, 180-pound goaltender from Saskatoon who was selected by the Blazers in the third round of the 2007 WHL bantam draft, has decided to take the NCAA option as the next step in his career. He committed Tuesday to attend Colorado College in the fall and play for the Tigers, who are based in Colorado Springs.

“It was hard on me to decide what to do,” Thorimbert said Tuesday from his home in Saskatoon. “Once I made my decision . . . I’m feeling really good about it.”

Thorimbert, who will turn 18 on Oct. 9, said his decision isn’t a reflection on the WHL or the Blazers, but was more a case of ensuring his education.

“The one thing that really stood out,” he explained, “was that I would be guaranteed a full four years of schooling. To me, that was very important. I have nothing against the WHL, but I was trying to get in a little later as an 18-year-old . . . the four years was going to be tough, especially if I didn’t stay as a 20-year-old.

“I get a full four years of schooling if hockey doesn’t work out. . . . I can do my schooling while playing hockey and get a degree by 21, and play professionally.

“That’s what I was looking at.”

Craig Bonner, the Blazers’ general manager, said he offered Thorimbert “everything we can according to our rules.”

Bonner said he wasn’t surprised by Thorimbert’s decision.

“He’s an 18-year-old who . . . it’s a tough decision,” Bonner said.

With Colorado College, Thorimbert will back up sophomore Joe Howe, who won all kinds of accolades and awards for his play as a freshman this season. Howe started 36 of the Tigers’ 39 games, including all 28 conference games. Overall, he was 17-15-3 with a 2.80 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

Thorimbert spent two days on the Colorado College campus in mid-May and described that experience as “awesome.”

Thorimbert attended the Blazers’ 2009 training camp, but suffered a concussion and left early. He joined the SJHL’s Kindersley Klippers and eventually took over the starter’s job, going 26-14-2-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .917 save percentage. He was named the SJHL’s rookie of the year.

Now all signs point to the Blazers going into training camp in late August with Jon Groenheyde as their starting goaltender. Groenheyde, a 19-year-old from South Surrey, is preparing for his third season with the Blazers. He backed up Justin Leclerc in 2008-09 and was the backup again this season, first to Leclerc and then to Kurtis Mucha, both of whom have graduated.

But there are concerns among Blazers management that the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Groenheyde has under-achieved, especially in 2009-10, when he finished 10-14-1-1 with a 3.79 GAA and a .896 save percentage.

Management had hoped that Thorimbert would commit to the Blazers, then come to camp and push Groenheyde hard for the No. 1 role.

“Our thought process all along is . . . Jonny is going to be given the opportunity to be the guy and we’ll see how that goes,” Bonner said. “He has shown some real positive signs over the last couple of years and also has had some struggles at times with his consistency. We feel he deserves the opportunity. He’s going to be given that and hopefully he takes the ball and runs with it. If he doesn’t, we’ll have to look elsewhere.”

The Blazers have three other goaltenders on their protected list.

John Keeney, a 17-year-old list player from Lake Arrowhead, Calif., finished last season backing up with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. He was 8-1-1 in 13 appearances, posting a 1.98 GAA and a .916 save percentage. Keeney, however, hasn’t signed with the Blazers.

Troy Trombley was a third-round pick in the 2008 draft. The second goaltender taken in that draft, he attended an IIHF development camp in Finland last summer, then joined the Blazers for training camp and signed a WHL contract before camp ended. From Sherwood Park, Alta., the 6-foot-5, 165-pounder played this season for his hometown midget AAA team, the Squires, going 11-3 with three ties. He had a 2.21 GAA and a .914 save percentage.

Taran Kozun, meanwhile, is a list player from Nipawin, Sask., who was in camp with the Regina Pats last fall. The 6-foot-1, 167-pound Kozun, who turns 16 on Aug. 29, played for the North East entry in the Centre Four midget league, going 9-1-1 with a 1.93 GAA.

“We still have Keeney and Trombley who can come in and battle for that job,” said Bonner, adding that Keeney is “still undecided which way he wants to go.”

Kozun, meanwhile, is ticketed for a team in the Saskatchewan midget AAA league.

JUST NOTES: Former Blazers head coach Troy Mick has left the KIJHL’s Revelstoke Grizzlies to become the director of hockey operations and player development for the Kelowna-based Pursuit of Excellence Academy. Mick signed a five-year contract with PoE. Mick, who guided Revelstoke to the KIJHL, B.C., and Western Canadian championships in his only season as GM/head coach, will remain one of the Grizzlies’ owners. . . . The BCHL’s Merritt Centennials have traded F Colton Sobchak, 20, to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for future considerations. Sobchak, who is from Kelowna, had 42 points in 55 games in 2009-10.

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