It takes a lot of work to make the roster of any Western Hockey League team.
It’s even harder when you’re 16 years of age and you’re battling for a roster spot against players who are upwards of five years older than you.
Sam Schofield, though, beat the odds and is now a full member of the Swift Current Broncos after signing his players agreement with the team on Aug. 30.
But there’s a catch and it will be explained.
Needless to say, Schofield is excited about making the big club and he said he was caught off-guard by the offer.
“It happened during the tryouts,” he said. “They talked with me and my dad about things. I signed the agreement and played my first game.”
Schofield played with the Burnaby Winter Club’s Elite 15 squad last season in B.C., in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League where he scored 12 goals and added 15 assists in 34 games to go along with a goal and an assist in the playoffs.
Schofield made his pre-season debut with the Broncos on Aug. 31 as they took on the Regina Pats. That ended in a 4-1 defeat with Schofield failing to hit the scoresheet.
He said the major junior game is much different from anything he’s seen before.
“It’s faster and you have minimal time with the puck,” he said. “If you spend too much time with the puck, you’ll get hit and hit hard.”
Playing in Swift Current was something he enjoyed as well, he added.
“It’s a small town and everyone loves the team,” he said. “Everyone cares about them and everyone supports it.”
One look at Schofield and you’ll notice he isn’t the largest player on the ice as he stands just 5 ft. 2 in. but he more than makes up for that with the way he plays, said Brad Anstey, president of Hockey NWT.
Anstey said he might not be the biggest physically but he’s bigger in other areas.
“He understands what it takes to play at a high level,” he said. “He has the heart and the passion and that’s because smaller players don’t always get the looks that bigger players do. He’s earned this and I hope he runs with it.”
Sixteen is the youngest a player can be to play for a major junior hockey club in Canada and teams don’t always take 16-year-olds if they aren’t a high draft choice but Anstey said the team saw something in Schofield.
“They recognized how hard he battles,” he said. “I’ve watched him play since he was a novice and he’s the kind of kid that will go through a wall for you. He knows how to play big because of his size and no one wants to go down his wing because they know it won’t be good. It’s hard for a small player to get respect but he’s earned it.”
Schofield is also still in the running for a spot on the Canada Winter Games boys hockey team this year and even though the roster hasn’t been confirmed yet, Anstey said having another Yellowknifer playing major junior is a big deal.
“It’s an honour for the NWT to have him down there,” he said. “Knowing Sam is the guy doing it is amazing.”
Dan Schofield, Sam’s father, was in Swift Current to watch his son and was in the room when the agreement was signed.
He said the team’s brass was very complimentary about his son’s play.
“They were telling him that he makes the players around him better,” he said. “They talked about how he finds open players, makes the difficult passes and the players around him become much better. They loved his work ethic and the other players feed off of that.”
Now for the catch.
While Schofield is a signed player and he gets all the benefits of being part of the team, such as scholarship money for post-secondary education, he won’t be starting the season with the team. He’ll be starting the season in major midget AAA with the Vancouver-based North East Chiefs of the BC Major Midget League.
He said he’s OK with that and will play the waiting game because as a signed player, he can join the Broncos at any time without any problems.
“I was expecting to compete for a spot next year,” he said. “This year was about trying it out but I’m excited about getting signed and I hope I get the call to play.”