Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Former Viper Sanford Goes Big With WHL Tigers:
Sanford goes big with WHL Tigers
by Kevin Mitchell - Vernon Morning Star
May 17, 2015
Snubbed in the 2014 NHL entry draft, Cole Sanford’s huge numbers with the Medicine Hat Tigers have teams taking a closer peek a year later.
Seeing sweet success of NHL players with similar vitals as the 5-foot-9 roadrunner forward has also boosted Sanford’s stock after a 50-goal, co-MVP season with the Western Hockey League Tigers.
“My agent, Tobin Wright, of Minnesota, has talked to a couple of teams and he says there’s some interest, but I’m not banking on being drafted,” said Sanford, a Vernon minor hockey grad who turns 20 in July.
Sanford rang up 95 points and 71 penalty minutes in the regular season, supplying 10 game winners, a dozen powerplay snipes and six shorties. He added five goals and 11 points in 10 playoff games as Medicine Hat’s season halted in a Game 5 double overtime loss to Canuck prospect Jake Virtanen and the Calgary Hitmen.
One of nine B.C. players who helped the Tigers finish fifth overall, Sanford’s fast hands make him dangerous being blessed without the big vital stats scouts drool over.
“Maybe when I was younger, it bugged me,” said Sanford, an alternate captain who wears No. 26. “Now a days, you look at Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Johnson and Brendan Gallagher, they’re helping out guys like me by doing what they’re doing in the NHL. You can’t really worry about that. There’s nothing I can do now about my size except show them how I can play.”
Sanford, Trevor Cox of Surrey and Steve Owre of California formed Medicine Hat’s elite unit with Cox amassing 29 goals and 109 points. Owre pocketed 20 goals and 52 times while missing time with a broken jaw.
“Cole brings one of the best scorers in the WHL to our line,” said Cox. “He’s a veteran guy in the league that leads both on and off the ice. He’s got one of the best releases I’ve seen and when you have a guy on your line scoring 50 goals a year, it’s never a bad idea to pass the puck to him.”
Detroit Red Wing scout Marty Stein has watched Sanford since his Watkin Motors Pee Wee AAA Mustangs days in Vernon.
“His biggest assets are his skating ability and hockey sense,” said Stein. “The WHL is a very hard league to score in and for him to score 50 goals is a huge achievement. The WHL’s rules and type of play are indicative to the NHL. He has great sense and he competes. One play comes to mind was in the series against Calgary. He was getting hacked and whacked by Keegan Kanzig who is a monster of a d-man (6-foot-6, 242-pound Calgary Flames pick). Cole turned around and cross checked him for every whack. Big balls to do that.
“He’s still very weak but you can’t question his ability. He’s a type of player that could start in the minors and work his way up. He just needs a window of a chance.”
Vernon’s Dennis Holland of the Dallas Stars’ scouting staff saw Sanford half a dozen times this season.
“Cole is a very smart intelligent player,” said Holland. “Good offensive instincts and a quick release. Understands his limitations size-wise and plays to his strengths. Will need to show he can produce against bigger stronger players at the next level which is no different than any other smaller, skilled player.”
Sanford developed his 747 snapper the past couple of summers, shooting thousands of pucks at an outside net with buddy Colten Dahlen (Nanaimo Clippers grad). He scored from the red line on a dump-in after Calgary goalie Mack Shields misplayed the puck in Game 5. Reaching the 50-snipe club was somewhat of a chore.
“I scored my 50th in P.A. (Prince Albert). Owre feathered me a pass mid-blue and I went forehand, backhand. It felt unreal. I felt like I was on 47, 48 for a while. I think our trainer still has the puck, hopefully.”
The Tigers were spoiled by sellout crowds of 4,006 in a 45-year-old building affectionately known as The Arena. Fans all shout “Let’s Go Tigers,” jeer opposing netminders and taunt Brent Sutter if he’s in the building. They move into a new $94 million facility outside of the Gas City next season. The Events Centre seats 6,500 with 222 luxury suites.
“It’s pretty exciting to play there every night,” said Sanford, who racked up 33 goals and 73 points two seasons ago after playing Junior B in Revelstoke and spending eight games with the BCHL Vernon Vipers. “People ask me where my favourite place to play is and I have to say home. The support we get every night and in the playoffs with them waving the orange towels, there’s really no better rink to play in. I know guys from other teams who come into Medicine Hay and say, ‘What a crowd, what an atmosphere every night.’”
Sanford also made the WHL’s second all-star team while winning the Tigers’ Three Stars honour and sharing team MVP with Cox, his roomie on the road. He also took playoff MVP. The Tigers lost to Curtis Lazar and the Edmonton Oil Kings in round three of the playoffs last year. Sanford had 11 points in 53 games as a rookie when the Tigers stunned the Memorial Cup host Saskatoon Blades in the playoffs.
“We had quite the start as a team and personally. We went through some ups and downs midway and towards the playoffs, but overall, I’ve never played on a team like I did this year. Just how close we were and how much fun it was to play there. Would have liked to have go further, but that’s just the way it goes. Probably one of the most memorable seasons I’ve ever played. Personally, I was able to achieve some goals and it was pretty exciting.
“I’ve been playing with Coxy for a while and Stevie kind of jumped in and filled the role with losing (Curtis Valk through graduation) Volky, and I couldn’t have done it without those two guys. I see Coxie as being a passer and he’d always find me. Stevie’s a smart player so we had quite the chemistry this year and I’m really looking forward to playing next year with them.”
Sanford gives props to Medicine Hat head coach Shaun Clouston, a 47-year-old former Portland Winterhawk offensive star.
“He’s a good coach. Coming in, we didn’t really know each other much. He gave me that opportunity halfway through my 17-year-old year, to get in the lineup a little more and play some more minutes. I’m grateful for him giving me those opportunities. The way he coaches and organizes practices, he’s always pushing guys to get better each and every day so when you have a coach like that, there’s a good atmospshere.”
He also credits his parents – Mike and Shelley – for influencing his career and adulthood. Evan Marble, his Bantam coach at Pursuit of Excellence, “has also always looked out for me.”
Sanford’s skating speed tested well in Minnesota a few years ago. He’s got pro wheels and now aims to work on lower body strength alongside Parker Bowles of the Tri-City Americans with Kelowna trainer Shane Pizzy to get even faster while striving to pass and shoot harder. He wears Bauer skates and used CCM Superfast and Tacks sticks this season.
“Off the ice, I’m pretty easy going, laid back,” said Sanford, who took in a few Kelowna Rockets’ playoff games. “I like to have fun, smile and laugh a lot. On the ice, the same. Like to keep it loose before the games and keep it fun. On the ice, I like to play pretty physical and play on the edge a bit.”
He loves kicking the soccer ball around, wake surfing and beating buddies like Michael Roberts of the Vipers on the tennis court. He played with the KIJHL Grizzlies alongside older brother Tye, an aspiring RCMP member.
On Virtanen, a Canucks’ first-rounder, he said: “He’s obviously a great player. As he got going in our series, he was hard to shut down, especially when he winds the zone. He’s a power forward, maybe around 200 pounds. You see him off the ice and he’s pretty thick. He’s got a great shot as well, real powerful.”
On Adam Tambellini, an ex-Viper with the Hitmen: ”Tambo had quite the second half of the season. I think he ended off with 48, 49 goals and he carried that play right into the playoffs. He’s a great player with great potential. He signed (with the Rangers) for a reason and he’s gonna do good things there.”