Hazelton’s Joel Patsey is heading towards the WHL.
The 15-year-old defenceman was drafted by the Prince George Cougars in the eighth round of the WHL’s bantam draft last Thursday and though he won’t suit up for the club next year, he has a good chance at making the team in 2015.
Patsey got the big news while sitting in math class.
“It was an exciting moment for sure,” Patsey said.
“My dad stayed home and followed the draft online and texted me when he got the news.”
True to his understated form, Patsey told a friend and left class to tell his brother, but the school announced it over the PA system.
“At the end of the day, one of my old coaches told everyone and the school found out. Everyone was cheering, it was really cool.”
He received more exciting news after he got home, when new part-owner of the Prince George Cougars, Dan Hamhuis called to welcome him to the club.
“I wasn’t home when he phoned, but he talked to my dad,” Patsey said. “It means a lot to me, that he called and just having someone who has been through this before to help me out will be great.”
Now, the hard work begins.
Patsey has already signed up for a summer of training with a conditioning coach that his dad recently hired.
“I just want to improve my all-around strength and conditioning,” Patsey said.
His 2013-14 hockey season might not be over yet, either.
Patsey recently tried out for the Team BC squad that will represent the province at the Canada Winter Games next year. He is expected to make it to the final round of cuts, which take place in Nanaimo later this spring.
If all goes according to plan, he’ll play this season for the Cariboo Cougars in major midget, while practicing once a week with the big club.
It’s extremely rare for 16-year-olds to make it into the WHL, so a year of seasoning in midget is probably in the cards.
Cougars head scout Todd Harkins has a plan in place.
“I think he’ll get some practices in with us next year and, if he’s ready, we project him to make the jump as a 17-year-old
“You want to make sure that a player is comfortable and confident before they play in the WHL, because the mental aspect is a huge part of the game at this level.”
Harkins and his scouting staff have had their eye on Patsey for quite awhile. They attended a number of bantam Storm games this season.
“I have been getting reports on him from our scouts since the season began,” Harkins said. “I talked to a lot of BC Hockey representatives, who were impressed with his game at the camp in Salmon Arm and that’s always a good sign.”
Harkins didn’t get to watch him in person until the Team BC camp, though.
“I saw a big, lanky defenceman, who was able to move the puck well, who had good feet.
“His head was up, he was making good plays and he plays with a bit of an edge, which is something you need as a defenceman in our league.”
Still, Harkins sees room for improvement.
“He’ll obviously have to keep developing. He’ll have to work on improving his foot speed a bit and gain some more strength, but that’s basically every kid we draft at that age.”
The head scout also liked what he saw off the ice.
“I noticed his family there at the B.C. camp, supporting him. And I think when you see that kind of family support, that can really help a player’s development. We are a family and we want to make sure the families we get are good people, too.”
Like any 15-year-old drafted into the WHL, Patsey has his long-term sights set on the NHL, but he’s not getting ahead of himself.
“I’ll see what happens with the WHL first,” Patsey said. “If I can get into the WHL, then I will start working as hard as I can to get into the NHL.”
“We are thrilled to have picked him and we hope he’s happy and that he continues to develop and play for the Prince George Cougars one day,” Harkins said.
Joining Patsey on the Prince George Cougars will be fellow northerner Justin Almeida, who was selected fifth overall out of the North Shore Winter Club. The Kitimat native will also likely play for the Cariboo Cougars next season.
In the future, the Cougars also plan on doing everything in their power to allow more kids from northern B.C. to play for the club.
“I think it’s important for our organization to recognize kids in the north.
“They understand the winter, they are accustomed to the area and it makes for a smooth transition. It gives these kids opportunities. We want to make sure they have opportunities.”