While Connor Fleming is busy trying to make the roster of the Prince Albert Raiders, there was another young Yellowknife hockey stud who very nearly got his chance to play in the Western Hockey League.
Austin Daniels managed to make it to the main camp of the Lethbridge Hurricanes late last month but was released just before the team’s pre-season schedule kicks off this evening.
Daniels, who played with the Edmonton-based Maple Leaf Athletic Club’s minor midget AAA squad last season, received an invite from the team to attend their rookie camp in August and it all came about after he got plenty of look-sees from a team scout.
“They have a scout who watched a lot of games I played in last season and they liked what they saw,” he said.
This wasn’t the 16-year-old’s first WHL rodeo as he was part of the Portland Winterhawks training camp last season, also on an invite basis. The Winterhawks do things differently than most teams in the WHL in that 80 players are invited to main camp and are split into four teams of 20 with no rookie camp beforehand to play a series of intrasquad games.
The Hurricanes go the traditional route and use a rookie camp to see what talent they have in their midst.
That’s how Daniels managed to get the invite to the main camp.
“I knew what to expect (in the rookie camp) going in so that helped me out a little,” said Daniels. “I felt good going into it, even though I didn’t get a lot of ice time over the summer because there wasn’t ice in the rinks here in town.”
Even with not much ice time heading in, he wasn’t too shocked when he got the call to play with the big boys.
“I thought I played well enough,” he said.
Main camp saw Daniels and 56 other players get put through their paces by head coach Brent Kisio and his staff.
Daniels felt like he kept up with the tempo of the camp but it’s a much different ball game against the roster players.
“It’s a lot faster than rookie camp,” he said. “You need to make quick decisions out there and it’s a much more physical game. You can be the best in rookie camp but the bottom player in main camp so you need to show the coaches you belong. I just lacked the experience that the older players have and those older players are bigger as well.”
With the WHL out of reach for this season, Daniels is turning his focus back to Edmonton and the Maple Leaf club. He’s planning on trying out for the major midget team this season after being cut last season from the squad as an under-aged player.
But there’s also the Alberta Junior Hockey League as a possibility for Daniels, which is one step below the WHL but above his current level. The AJHL has had plenty of Yellowknifers call it home such as Tye Hand, Jacob Schofield and Andy Williams to name a few.
That’s not on Daniels’ mind right now, though.
“It would be something I would have to think about,” he said. “I’m just focused on having a good tryout in Edmonton and making the major midget team.”