Looking at the 2016-17 Columbia Valley Rockies Roster, you come across some unique hometowns for the team’s 27 players. Fans have become familiar with the team’s new faces from Warham, Saskatchewan to Coquitlam, B.C and everywhere in between,
Among the players, though, are four names fans will recognize from recent years in the Windermere MinorHockey Association.
Brennan Nelson, Owen Lee, Jayden Jefferson and Kyler Shmigelsky make up the hometown Rockies who hav eeither grown up in the Windermere Minor Hockey Association or moved here only recently before starting their junior career with the Columbia Valley Rockies.
Head coach Wade Dubielewicz said the number of hometown Rockies varies from year to year, but this year’s number is notable considering that two of last year’s hometown players—Damon Raven and Kellen Marchand—aged out of the junior system after playing with the Rockies since their 16-year-old rookie seasons. The fact that the Rockies are continually able to rely on the local minor hockey association demonstrates the strength of hockey in the area, Dubielewicz said.
“I think it speaks volumes, to be honest,” he said. “I think it’s going to continue to get better. I’m somewhat emotionally involved in minor hockey here; I keep an eye on the Bantams and Midgets and my stepson is now in Atom, and from Atom through Midget, there are plenty of prospects who have the ability to play for the Columbia Rockies so hats off to Windermere Valley Minor Hockey.”
For the intimate community of Invermere, home to some 4,000 people with a burgeoning minor hockey association, Dubielewicz said he can understand the importance for fans of having a strong core of hometown players on each year’s roster.
“There are so many volunteers who put in their own time, and a lot of it, and when there are kids who are capable of playing at this level that are local, I think it gives them a bit of reward for their work that they’re putting in,” he said.
Leading the hometown Rockies this year in points is Lee, who Dubielewicz describes as an offensive weapon,recording two goals and eight assists in his first 19 games of junior hockey. Originally born in Canmore, Alberta before moving to Vancouver, Lee arrived in the Columbia Valley in 2015 after finishing his minor hockey career playing Varsity in the Banff Minor Hockey Academy.
Dubielewicz said that Lee’s talent became apparent to the Rockies as “one of the top tier-four midget players inthe province” before having him suit up for four games in his 16-year-old rookie season.
Lee said he feels a tremendous amount of pride playing in front of his home fans, seeing familiar faces in the crowd during every home game.
“You feel a lot of pride in every win and every loss as you develop,” he said. “It’s definitely one of my first choices when it came down to it. I’d rather play here over anywhere else just because of heritage with my family here.”
While Dubielewicz said that Lee has presented as a potent offensive weapon already, in the future he needs to focus on his defensive game as well in order to become a complete player.
“There are a lot of things that he has to learn about hockey away from the puck that affects his ice time and his place in the lineup,” he said. “I think, honestly, if Owen continues to keep working, he’s going to be a big time player for us. Just that process of getting there is difficult.”
For Nelson, who was born and raised in Invermere before moving to Victoria to play for the Pacific CoastAcademy Sea Devils last year, playing in front of his friends and family is a special experience for him.
“It’s pretty special, being able to be one of the locals on the team and having all the local fans out while beingable to play for your hometown,” he said. “I find it a lot easier especially after being away for a year (in Victoria).It makes me appreciate playing at home, living with my family, and my friends.”
Both Shmigelsky and Jefferson are working on earning roles on the Rockies team with Jefferson now in his third season in a Rockies uniform. He said the atmosphere brought by the hometown crowd for its players is one of the main reasons he wanted to become a member of the Rockies and stay here for his junior career.
Asked whether that atmosphere can translate into too much pressure for the hometown players who know somany of the faces in the crowd on game nights, Lee didn’t equivocate.
“No, because they notice that you’re representing them and giving them the very best that you can get,” he said.“You’re making your town proud.”