Campbell River has been providing a steady stream of prospects into the ranks for major junior hockey in recent years.
This year proved no exception. During the 2018 draft, held May 3 in Red Deer, Alta., Western Hockey League clubs selected three Campbell River players from the bantam ranks.
In the fifth found, the Tri-City Americans drafted forward Parker Bell. In round seven, the Kamloops Blazers took defenceman Brayden Ross. One round later, the WHL-champion Swift Current Broncos chose forward Brian Majic.
“There’s a few local players that were drafted,” said Lee Stone, who coaches the local Junior B Campbell River Storm and helps train players at Carihi’s local academy. “We’ve had a quite few guys in the last couple of years.”
Bell played at Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford this last year but had been a Tyee for a couple of years previously, while Ross played locally for the Tyees and Majic was playing at an academy in the Okanagan though he was also a Tyee.
“I kind of knew I was on the radar the whole year,” Bell said.
He had talked to scouts and had heard through his agent that WHL teams were intested. Still, he missed a lot of time from injuries to his knee and shoulder and had to go through rehab. He has felt fine since January and expects to go to camp for Tri-City in August.
Stone, who has had experience working with all three players to varying degrees, points out most communities that produce multiple picks for the bantam draft are a lot larger than Campbell River, so the number in recent years is remarkable.
“It is absolutely a very large number,” he said.
In 2017, Davis Frank was drafted by the Saskatoon Blades and, like Bell, was aware he was being scouted by WHL teams, having been in touch with scouts.
“Getting closer to the draft, it was a phone call a day,” he said.
Frank did attend the Blades’ camp last season but suffered a concussion. He came home to play with the Storm as an affiliated player, but he anticipates a return to Saskatoon’s camp for the next WHL season.
“I’m going back this year, so I’m hoping to stay,” he said.
Two years ago was even bigger for prospects with Campbell River connections. Jalen Price, who played with the Storm this year, was taken in the third round by Medicine Hat. In round four, Swift Current and Red Deer chose Nolan Corrado and River Fahey, respectively, while Matt Ubriaco was picked by Kamloops in round nine.
Another local, Cody Savey, went undrafted but later signed an agreement with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Both Savey and Price were key figures this past weekend for the B.C. team that won gold at the 2018 National Aboriginal Hockey Championship.
Stone said he tends to start working players around the time they hit bantam.
“Your focus is on getting bigger, faster and stronger,” he said. “The big thing is educating these young men how hard it is to play at that next level.”
He can match up the kids who have gone before as mentors to the younger players in order to get across what it takes to move through the junior hockey ranks.
“The cool thing now in town is you see a kid like River Fahey, who played in the Western league last year. He’s on the ice with me, skating with Parker Bell, who got drafted this year. Obviously, it’s a chance for Parker to kind of learn from River.”
Stone credits others in Campbell River, like Bryce Cockburn, for helping develop the players at an earlier age.
“From novice, atom and peewee, Bryce does a lot of work with minor hockey,” he said. “He’s definitely, I think, a very big piece to the puzzle in terms of the development in this town.”
Cockburn, who works for the local minor hockey association as skills coach, emphasizes skills such as skating when working with younger players to get them ready for a changing sport, which is moving more toward speed and quick decision-making over size. He also makes use of some of the recent draftees to help out with the youngest players in minor hockey.
During his own early days as a player here, Cockburn said he did not have as many training options. He credits coaches like Terry Perkins for mentoring but ended up leaving to play with the famed Notre Dame junior program in Saskatchewan. Cockburn gives credit to the local minor hockey association for its skill development programming, which helps the community compete with hockey academies springing up in larger communities.
“Minor hockey does a really great job in Campbell River. They do their best to stay ahead of the curve,” he said.
As far as the Storm, Stone and the team held the spring camp over the weekend, and the coach said it was the strongest response the team has had in several years, with more than 70 players coming from around B.C. and as far away as Manitoba for the weekend.
There are older players at the camp, typically 19 to 22, most of whom are alumni or returning players, while the younger players, typically 15 to 18, are trying to earn a tryout for the VIJHL champs next season.
“It’s a bit of selling point for our program,” Stone said. “We’re looking to invite players to main camp.”