Westblom goes pro, signs in CHL

Meadow Lake's Kris Westblom, pictured playing with his former team the Axemen out of Acadia University, said he was excited to start his pro career with the Dayton Gems this fall. "We play 66 games over five months, so that'll be a little bit of a change of pace," he said. "It'll be fun." (Photo Submitted)

By Ben Ingram

Yet another Meadow Lake area resident has taken his hockey skills to the professional level.

Kris Westblom, who played for Acadia University’s Axemen last year, has signed a deal to play for the Dayton Gems of the Central Hockey League this fall.

The 24-year-old goaltender played out his junior career with the Kelowna Rockets and said his decision to play in Dayton, Ohio came from the realization that it would give him the opportunity to play and start his pro career.

“The pro lifestyle will be fun as well, going to the rink in the morning with the guys and having a full schedule,” he said, adding that he hopes a number of American Hockey League call-ups will be in the cards for him next season.

For the time being, Westblom is in Kelowna practising with his former junior team. He said he expects to visit Meadow Lake in the coming weeks before heading to Dayton to get ready for the start of the CHL season that begins for the Gems on Oct. 22.

As the goaltender that preceeded him signed a joint contract with the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans, the hope for Westblom is that playing with the Gems will help him develop his professional career.

He said he also had an offer to play in Scotland but decided the CHL was the best fit, due to the opportunity to get called up to the AHL.

Gems head coach Brian Gratz echoed this sentiment by saying the philosophy of the team is to focus on development.

“As a goaltender the best opportunity you’re going to get is where you’re going to get a chance to play,” he said.

Teams in the CHL play 66 games per season and the Gems finished last year with a 32-29-5 record. Gratz shared his hope that Westblom will help elevate the team that finished eighth in its conference last year.

But as for what attracted the team to make an offer to Westblom in the first place, the coach said it was more than just his level of play.

“He’s a very down-to-earth kid who’s just looking for a true opportunity,” Gratz said. “That excited me because he really wants to get out there and prove something to himself and everybody.”

“I think it’s just going to be a good change of lifestyle, change of scenery,” Westblom mused.

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