It’s been a long journey for former Columbia Valley Rockies forward Nick Hoobonoff, who recently committed to the Nipawin Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Born in Karagandy, Kazakhstan, Hoobonoff migrated to Canada and was adopted by his now-parents — Brian and Sylvie — who live in Canal Flats, where he currently resides. At the early age of four, Hoobonoff was already in skates on his family’s backyard rink before signing up for organized hockey in the Columbia Valley.
Working his way through each successive tier of minor hockey, Hoobonoff landed in Cranbrook, playing at the AAA level, while also seeing action in two games for the Rockies in the 2012-13 season.
The following season, he cemented himself as a regular in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, this time playing for the Golden Rockets, where he recorded nine goals and 28 points in his rookie season. After spending another season in Golden, the Rockies acquired Hoobonoff in time for the 2015-16 season, where he recorded his highest points per game total of his junior career with 25 points in just 28 games.
Despite the Rockies coming up short in the playoffs this season, head coach Wade Dubielewicz said he’s not surprised at Hoobonoff’s promotion to the Junior A Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League next season — a branch of the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
“He’s honestly a coach’s dream the way he plays, so I’m not surprised at all,” Dubielewicz said. “What makes Nick special is that he can play with really good players and complements them well, but he can also play that third line, gritty, grinding, checking role and kill penalties.”
Hoobonoff credits the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League for developing him into becoming a two-dimensional player able to move onto higher levels of hockey.
“Going through Golden and Columbia Valley, they’re both really strong organizations and they both treat their players really well so it’s a good place to learn how to play junior and learn how to be a professional,” he said.
Hoobonoff said he always had plans of moving onto Junior A, but was simply looking for the right fit. With the Nipawin Hawks, he says he thinks he found it. Last year, Nipawin finished with a 36-17-3 record before losing in game seven of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League semi-finals against the Melfort Mustangs.
Aside from joining a winning team, Hoobonoff says he views this move as a step towards a bigger jump in his future.
“I’m excited to join the Canadian Junior Hockey League just because of the prestige that comes along with it and there’s a lot more exposure to universities and colleges, so I’m definitely going to jump into that and work my way up there,” he said, noting that his end goal is to earn a scholarship to a Division I school in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) south of the border.
For now, there’s a lot of hard work still ahead that will start this summer in the weight room, the defining environment for Hoobonoff next season, Dubielewicz said.
Hoobonoff, to his credit, understands this.
“I’ve often heard the saying that hockey players, good hockey players anyways, are built in the summer and that definitely holds true,” he said, adding that he works on getting bigger, faster and stronger every off-season. “You see guys in the NHL and they go just as hard as they do on the ice as they do in the gym.”
From Kazakhstan to the Columbia Valley and now Saskatchewan, Hoobonoff’s journey is certainly unique. Where he goes next only he can decide.