(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, Brandon Sun) — A smooth-skating Austrian has injected himself into the Brandon Wheat Kings’ complicated import situation.
Dario Winkler, 18, saw action for the first time on Friday. He had done some light, unstructured skating with other members of the team since arriving last week but this was his first hard workout.
“It went pretty good,” Winkler said after the first practice. “I wasn’t on the ice for three weeks so it was a little bit hard for the first time back on the ice.”
Despite also being on the mend after a recent illness, Winkler quickly showed a powerful skating stride and keen offensive instincts. Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon was happy with what he saw.
“As we expected based on the reports that we had, he looks like a guy who skates well, has some ability, has a good shot,” said McCrimmon, who chose Winkler in the second round of this year’s Canadian Hockey League import draft. “I know that he’s looking forward to getting on the ice in the camp setting. He skated informally with some of the other guys earlier on but this is the next step in the process for Dario.”
Winkler actually knew a bit about the Wheat Kings, having watched some of their games on the Internet.
“They were a very good team, last year and this year too,” Winkler said.
The Wheat Kings struck gold with an Austrian 20 years ago when Gerhard Unterluggauer spent two seasons with the club from 1995 to 1997. The stocky defenceman with the big shot is still active in the top Austrian league at age 39.
It’s not Winkler’s first trip to Canada. He played in a peewee tournament in Quebec and another four years ago in Kelowna, B.C.
“The ice is a little bit smaller than in Europe but I knew that already,” Winkler said. “I expected it to be like this.”
Winkler has played away from home with EC Salzburg’s under-18 and U-20 programs for the last four seasons. In 33 games with four different teams last season, Winkler had 15 goals and seven assists. With the Austrian under-18 team he had three goals and three assists in five games while getting a goal and an assist in five games with the Austrian U-20 squad.
Winkler said his strengths lie in different areas.
“I think I’m a good skater,” he said. “I can see the game good. I’m more of a playmaker than a tough guy or something like that.”
Winkler is here with his father Christian, which he says has been a big help. His early impressions of Brandon — he’s also been up to Clear Lake with his billet family — are good.
“It’s a very nice city,” Winkler said. “It’s a little bit small but there’s everything you need. It’s nice here.”
Now it’s just a matter of staying.
With only two import spots available, 20-year-old Latvian Rihards Bukarts and 18-year-old defencemen Ivan Provorov and Oliver Kylington are also in the mix. Provorov, a first-round NHL draft choice, will attend the camp of the Philadelphia Flyers looking to earn a spot while Kylington could find a job with the Calgary Flames or their American Hockey League affiliate Stockton Heat.
Bukarts will attend the rookie camp of the Edmonton Oilers looking for a pro contract
Winkler said he hopes his Brandon adventure will last.
“Every day I have to be hard-working and try to score for the team,” Winkler said. “I do everything for the team.
“I try my best and I hope it will work out.”
Winkler and the Wheat Kings will close out Camp this afternoon at 2pm as Westman Place hosts the annual Intrasquad Game.