A late cut by the Vernon Vipers one year and back to Junior B in Armstrong. Three shoulder separations the next season with the Trail Smoke Eaters. One quick four-pack of games in Saskatchewan with the Humboldt Broncos before his departure.
Vernon’s Blaine Caton had every reason to throw a pity party and toss his hockey career out the window a few times.
Instead, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound centre persevered, caught a break, and at 21, has secured a scholarship with the Marian University Sabres in Wisconsin of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) which is affiliated with the NCAA’s Division III. He agreed to an offer Monday.
“They’ve been talking to me the last three weeks to a month over the month, pretty much after the playoffs,” said Caton, who rang up 15 goals and 34 regular-season points with the B.C. Hockey League Smokies this season. “They liked that I’m a 200-foot player who can step in and play centre and play a lot of minutes. They lost a few of their top forwards. It’s a relief to have things out of the way.”
The Sabres lost leading point-getters Hunter Stewart (Alberni Valley Bulldogs, BCHL) and Derek Thorogood (Okotoks Oilers, AJHL) through graduation. Both seniors are from Calgary.
Caton had other Division III schools calling and talked to a Division I Minnesota State Mavericks recruiter after one game. Defenceman Troy Ring of the Smokies has also signed with the Sabres.
“Troy flew down there so he’s been telling me all about the school. He says it’s awesome.”
Caton was a team player who did as much on the ice as he did off it, contributing not only as a leader on the Smoke Eaters but also in the community. He says head coach Cam Keith kept him inspired in the game.
“After I had the three shoulder separations and only played 22 games (2015-16 season), I was ready to call it quits. I went home that summer and me and my dad sat down and talked. We figured I either pack it in or keep trying and after a day or so, I decided to keep trying. Cam Keith kind of turned things around for me in Trail. He gave me the opportunity to play and get better. He never gave up on me.”
Caton, whose dad, Murray, backstopped the Vernon Lakers to back-to-back Centennial Cup national Junior A titles in 1990-92, amassed 15 goals and 33 points a year ago. He was a clutch player again this season, pocketing 11 points in the playoffs as the Smokies upset the Penticton Vees before being swept by the Wenatchee Wild.
Blaine collected four goals and eight points in 48 games with Vernon as a 17-year-old. He didn’t make the team the following season. He is home working at Chasers Bottle Depot, “for my eighth summer.”
Marian is based in Fond du Lac, 45 minutes from Milwaukee. Marian compiled 20 regular-season wins en route to the first NCAA Tournament bid in team history. Caton will study business and sports management.
Caton’s signing brings the number of Smoke Eaters’ NCAA commitments to seven, including Columbus Blue Jacket draft Kale Howarth, who is heading to University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies.
Fond du Lac is French for Bottom of the Lake, named as such because of its location at the bottom of Lake Winnebago. The city has a population of 44,000.
Mercury Marine, which has its world headquarters in Fond du Lac, is the largest maker of outboard motors in the world, employing approximately 2,500 people.