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Heat rookie D-men Wotherspoon, Ramage learning the ropes
If the best elements of Abbotsford Heat rookies John Ramage and Tyler Wotherspoon’s current skill sets could somehow be combined in one player, you’d have an NHL-ready defenceman.
Ramage, 22, boasts a hockey intelligence that’s beyond his years of pro experience – his pedigree includes four years with the NCAA’s Wisconsin Badgers and the input of his father Rob, who played more than 1,000 NHL games.
The flip side of the coin is, his physical skills, in terms of skating and puck-moving, need work. His offensive stats (one assist in 35 games) bear witness to that.
By contrast, Wotherspoon’s greatest strength is his physical gifting – at 6’2” and 203 pounds, he’s got good size and skating ability. But he’s still learning nuances of the game.
“They’re kind of on opposite ends of the spectrum,” Heat head coach Troy Ward analyzed, “but they’ve both made good strides.
“The Ramage situation is, growing up, at dinner time, every conversation might have had to do with pro hockey. He has a real good feel for the game. He makes some errors, but he recovers because he feels the game so well.
“Wotherspoon’s situation, we need to grow him a little bit in how he feels the game and when he senses danger, things like that.
“They’re both at the age where they can have blow-ups, for sure, but they’re far less, and they’re both far more comfortable.”
It's generally true that for both rookie D-men, their better games are the ones where they're less noticeable, based on how tidy and mistake-free they're able to keep things in the defensive zone.
Wotherspoon, a 20-year-old Surrey native who is making the jump to pro hockey after spending the past four seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, said he’s grown more comfortable as the season has gone on.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun,” said Wotherspoon, who has one goal, seven assists and a +11 rating in 31 games. “I’ve had some ups and downs, but that comes from being a rookie. I feel like I’ve taken the challenges head-on and grown from everything along the way.”
Ramage said the biggest adjustment to pro hockey has been learning the consistency required.
“It’s a different level, and it’s a business now,” he said. “You’re held accountable by your coaches and teammates, and it results in wins and losses. It’s definitely been a bit of an adjustment, but it’s been a good adjustment. . . It’s been a great team to be a part of.”
Ramage is still looking for his first goal, but he’s been working hard on his offensive skills in practice and came close on Jan. 17 vs. Grand Rapids, ringing a shot off the post.
"I haven't really caught a break, but you also create your own breaks," he said with a wry chuckle. "It's coming. It know it's coming. Eventually."