Pats building on success

Greg Harder, Leader-Post
Published: Saturday, April 29, 2006

A little taste of success hasn't satisfied the appetite of the Regina Pats.

If anything, it made them hungrier.

"We still haven't won a league championship," noted director of scouting Todd Ripplinger, who's in Grande Prairie, Alta., this weekend for the Alberta Cup -- the final bantam tournament prior to Thursday's WHL draft.

"We want to keep on striving to be the best. That's what the ultimate goal is. We haven't gotten there yet. We're going to keep on making sure we have good drafts and hopefully it will fall into place from there."

After three straight losing seasons, the Pats were rejuvenated in 2005-06 with a young lineup that exceeded expectations by posting a record of 40-27-1-4.

The turnaround might seem sudden -- jumping from 12 wins to 40 -- but it was actually three years in the making.

Although several factors played into the Pats' recent success, the process began in the spring of 2003 when Ripplinger and his scouting staff went to the draft table and selected the likes of Logan Pyett, Justin Bernhardt, Craig Schira and Ian Duval.

All four players -- to varying degrees -- have shown all-star potential in two seasons of WHL service.

Regina's selections in the 2004 draft might be even better, with a group that includes Brett Leffler, Nick Ross, Linden Rowat, Matt Delahey, Jason MacDonald and Derek Hulak. All six of those players were on Regina's season-ending roster and are expected to form the core of the team for the next three seasons.

Waiting in the wings is the Class of 2005, a highly touted group led by first overall pick Colten Teubert, a Chris Pronger prototype who displayed his superstar potential during a late-season callup.

The jury is still out on the top-to-bottom quality of last year's selections, mostly because Teubert is the only one so far to show his wares at the WHL level.

The rest of the group should start bearing fruit next season, including second-round pick Brayden Metz of Regina, another top-flight prospect who will contend for a roster spot in the fall.

"It's exciting looking at our depth chart, seeing what is coming up," said Ripplinger, whose club holds the 14th pick in this year's draft. "It certainly helps that we've had all our picks for the last few years (instead of trading them) and it has really shown in the draft. We've been drafting decent players and these guys are panning out."

It's no coincidence that Regina's lean years on the ice followed in the wake of substandard drafts in 2001 and 2002, plus trades involving top picks from each of the previous two pools.

However, the Pats have finally climbed out of the hole they dug while taking a run at the 2001 Memorial Cup. In the process, the team's braintrust -- under the direction of GM Brent Parker -- has settled on a more definitive draft philosophy.

The Pats feel they scored a hat trick over the past three years by focusing on local players who possess common attributes -- speed and skill.

That approach is not expected to change in 2006, although the team's recent turnaround appears to have tempered some of the recruiting issues that plagued Regina in the past few years.

"We try to stay local," explained Ripplinger, "but we're getting a good response from kids (outside the province) this year. I think they know we're on the up and up and they'd like to be a part of it."