Hockey gets to relax and have extra fun, this time of year. It’s the spot on the calendar where many leagues take a pause to honour their best players with mid-season games, skills competitions and other events.
The NHL all-star game is on Feb. 4, the BCHL top prospects weekend was Jan. 20-22, the WHL stars gathered on Jan. 25 for their showcase, and the AHL has theirs on Feb. 5.
For the players on the Burns Lake Timbermen of the Greater Metro Junior-A Hockey League, their chance to shine was Jan. 17 in Bancroft, Ontario. Two games were played back to back, one for the league’s players under the age of 18 and one for the players under the age of 21.
The Timbermen had two players called to the prestigious event: forward James Joseph and goalie Rayden Nishikawa. Both were in the U18 game but placed on opposing teams.
One of the Timbermen coaches, Mac Cardinal, also attended for development purposes.
It was great to get the call,” said Nishikawa. “I was excited to have my teammate playing against me, there was a lot of good competition. It was good to go and play with the other Under 18s. The calibre of play was exceptional. It was a good experience.”
Some of the players knew each other as opponents, but since this was a blending of players from B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, it was a lot of strangers suddenly getting to know each other, with hockey as the common ground.
“Everyone was excited, everyone was having a good time, we all kind of gelled together pretty quickly,” said Nishikawa. “I made a couple of friends, and talk to some of the players. I got to talk to the captain of Kitimat, know more about him. Got to talk to some of the kids on Mackenzie. It was good to meet them. I’m just thankful I got to partake in it – got to go with my teammate James Joseph, and my coach.”
Timbermen coach James Dyment said it was an invaluable opportunity for the league to draw national attention to their level of play, and the players who got to go were inevitably better off as people, and could bring that back their respective dressing rooms.
“Honestly, it gives them more exposure to more scouts, and if it gives them an opportunity to play hockey at a higher level, then I’m all for it,” Dyment added. “I think it is a great honour for them; I’m proud of them both. Rayden is one of the main leaders already, so him getting a chance to talk to some of the other captains was really good, and for him and James it just gives them more knowledge about the sport and more insight into other teams, other players.”
“The older guys are looking more for pro opportunities and the younger guys are looking more for collegiate opportunities,” said the GMHL’s western division executive director Derek Prue. “It’s for guys to get seen by scouts, agents, coaches, recruiters, all that, so it’s exciting that the Timbermen have a couple of guys going to that.”
Nishikawa is from Alberta, Joseph comes from Saskatchewan – a long way to uproot as teenagers.
“It’s been great. I love the town, I love the people,” Nishikawa said. “My billets are a great family – Bill Fritsen and Bryanne White. I’d never been to Burns Lake before. I’m from Calgary. It’s a chance to mature faster. I’m in Grade 12, and LDSS has been great, I made some good friends there and it’s always great to see my teammates there.”
The Timbermen made sure the whole team got to enjoy the midseason mindset. In amongst a regular season GMHL home game on Jan. 27 against the Mackenzie Mountaineers, and the ones set for Feb. 3 in Kitimat versus the Saax and Feb. 4 back in Burns Lake against the same Saax team, the Timbermen also get to goof off and meet new people on the ice during their Jan. 28 charity game against the alumni of the Burns Lake Braves former team that once represented the town at the adult level.
“I want to make it all fun, it’s a fun atmosphere, a game that’s nothing too serious,” Dyment said.