Friday, June 14, 2024

Wenatchee Wild announce extensions for Mendelson, provincial scouting staff

Recent contract extensions follow team’s successful first turn through WHL draft sequence

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WENATCHEE – The Wenatchee Wild, proud members of the Western Hockey League (WHL), are excited to announce that Director of Scouting Leigh Mendelson has signed a two-year contract extension with the club following the team’s successful first run through the WHL’s U.S. Priority and Prospects drafts last week. The team’s five provincial scouts – Riley Emmerson and Jeff Urekar (British Columbia), Keegan Bell (Alberta), Andrew Bailey (Saskatchewan) and Mitchell Kirkup (Manitoba) have also been awarded two-year contract extensions. Four of Wenatchee’s provincial scouts were hired last summer as part of the organization’s move to the WHL from the British Columbia Hockey League, while Urekar joined the club’s scouting staff in December.

“Leigh and his provincial scouting staff did a great job on this year’s WHL draft,” said general manager Bliss Littler. “He and our scouts – Riley, Jeff, Keegan, Andrew and Mitchell – put in a lot of hours this year. We’re happy with how the draft turned out, and we’re glad to be able to have them as part of our organization for two more years. As we pursue a Memorial Cup, we know it needs to be done through the draft, and we feel we have the right people in place to help us do that.”

Mendelson has enjoyed a decorated career in the sport, and will celebrate his 30th season in junior and professional hockey as the 2024-25 season gets underway. He has served with the Wild since 2017, with stints as the team’s associate head coach and as its goaltending coach, as well as his current role as Director of Scouting. He led the team’s efforts in drafting 13 players as part of last Thursday’s WHL Prospects Draft, as well as two more players the previous day in the league’s U.S. Priority Draft.

“I’d like to thank Bliss and David White for the opportunity to lead our scouting department for two more years, and to have the entire scouting staff back as well,” said Mendelson. “In year one, we accomplished a lot of things in terms of developing our ideal player identities – our scouts were a big part of that all season on the road, and on draft day as well. On top of it all, it’s a great group to work with – everybody has a voice and works well together. I cannot thank them enough for their work this year.”

Emmerson enjoyed a 10-year professional playing career that included a seventh-round selection by the Minnesota Wild in the 2005 National Hockey League Draft, and has served as a head coach with the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds program in the B.C. Elite League. He was named in March as the new Under-16 head coach for B.C. Hockey’s Program of Excellence.

“I'm thrilled to have re-signed with the Wenatchee Wild,” said Emmerson. “Being part of such a dedicated and talented team makes it a great opportunity. Our staff’s vision, passion and work ethic are incredible. I look forward to continuing to contribute to the organization's success in identifying top-tier talent.”

Urekar has served as the head coach for the U15 program at Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, British Columbia since 2021, after previously serving in coaching and scouting roles with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Trail Smoke Eaters.

“Being part of the Wild organization has been a terrific experience so far,” said Urekar. “I think we all feel our first draft together as a group went really well, with the players we were able to select, and the teamwork we have in the scouting department.  Looking forward to the next couple years with this organization and continuing to help build a roster that will one day contend for a championship.”

Bell came to the Wild off a stint with the United States Hockey League’s Sioux City Musketeers, joining the organization in 2014 as their Western Canadian scout, and serving as Sioux City’s Assistant Director of Scouting since 2019. He had also served in separate scouting roles with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Drumheller Dragons and Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Kindersley Klippers.

“I'm excited to be re-signing with the Wild for two years,” said Bell. “The management and staff are good people, and I'm looking forward to working together in the coming years. Our scouting staff worked really well together preparing for the draft. I look forward to being part of the group to find the next wave of players that fit into our identity in Wenatchee.”

Bailey played four years in the WHL with the former Kootenay ICE, before playing five seasons at the University of Saskatchewan and another in the German professional ranks. He has spent 15 years involved in coaching and player development.

“I am excited to continue forward with the Wild, and especially with our group,” said Bailey. “I felt like we had a very successful first year on the road, and believe this entire staff has a great vision on building an elite program.”

Kirkup has spent 12 years as a WHL scout, serving previously with the Spokane Chiefs and Prince George Cougars. Kirkup also serves as the Director of Scouting for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Swan Valley Stampeders.

“It is evident that the future is bright here in Wenatchee and I am very excited to extend my tenure and stay involved with the Wild organization,” said Kirkup. “Having just finished our first draft and now preparing for our second training camp, I am looking forward to continuing to be part of an organization that is willing to invest in its players and develop into a top-contending team in the WHL.”

Wenatchee’s second season as a WHL club gets underway this fall, after a 2023-24 campaign that saw the Wild win 34 games and finish fourth in the league’s Western Conference standings, earning home-ice advantage in the first round of their inaugural WHL playoff run.

The Wenatchee Wild congratulate Director of Scouting Leigh Mendelson and provincial scouts Riley Emmerson, Jeff Urekar, Keegan Bell, Andrew Bailey and Mitchell Kirkup on their contract extensions, and look forward to their continuing contributions with the club.

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