The Puget Sound Tomahawks of the Northern Pacific Hockey League went 2-42 this season. The American players skipped many of the practices which hurt team unity. The Hawks missed the playoffs.
Vernon’s Mitchell Wilson can’t wait to go back and play there again next year.
The Tomahawks are one of 11 teams in the Junior A Tier 3 league and Wilson got all the playing and practice time he wanted.
“Despite the losing, I still had a lot of fun,” said Wilson, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound winger. “It wasn’t a horrible experience. From going, potentially, to not playing, to pretty much starting first line, I was happy with how things turned out.”
Wilson’s highest level of minor hockey was a year of Tier 2 Midget in Vernon. Last summer, he went to the skating treadmill at Redline Sports in Kelowna and got faster and stronger. He also hired personal trainer Rhonda Catt and joined Rob Spraggs’ conditioning camp.
In June, he had attended a Global Showcase in Las Vegas in front of 40 scouts and coaches, and got a call from Steve Chelios, coach of the Southern Oregon Spartans of the Norpac League. Wilson played for the Spartans in the July Chowder Cup Junior A Showcase in Boston.
He went to Orgeon’s main camp in August, in Medford, near the California border, and made the grade. The league also has teams in Montana and Wyoming.
“I have always been interested in travelling and this seemed like a great way to see part of the U.S. and their culture,” said Wilson.
Wilson said Chelios mainly played just his top two lines so after six weeks, Wilson asked for a trade, and ended up with Puget Sound. The Tomahawks’ head coach, a former Trail Smoke Eater goalie and Vancouver Giants’ tender coach, Jason Quinn, was replaced at Christmas by Russian pro Yev Saidachev.
“I played centre for our old coach and right wing with coach Yev,” said Wilson, who turns 20 in May. “My linemate, Eric Schmidt, from Calgary, led the league in fighting majors so I definitely felt safe out there.”
Wilson finished with five goals and 15 points on a goal-challenged club which won its first game in the second week, and then again in Saidachev’s debut at Christmas.
“Some nights we’d play the best team and go to overtime and then we’d lose 15-1 the next night. Some guys wouldn’t show up for practices and there was always extra ice after practice so I’d get three hours of ice a day. Sometimes it would be two guys so we’d work on one-timers. We had 12 guys at the end and there are limits on cards in that league.”
The Tomahawks played their home games in Bremerton, 10 minutes from downtown Seattle. The female team owner had a practice rink in Tacoma open to the Hawks.
“I was kind of surprised how good the hockey was. The buses are new and the road trips are great. Trips to my old team in Oregon were the best – they get about 700 fans a game, have cheerleaders and a great beer garden at the visitors’ end – so it got pretty lively.”