Dylan Walchuk never played a period of Rep hockey until he was in Bantam.
Which places his rise to B.C. Hockey League prominence with the Vernon Vipers somewhere between astonishing and downright impressive.
His hometown of McBride (population 745), which lies in the shadow of Mount Robson, wasn’t big enough to field a Rep team, and Prince George, the closest city with a competitive program, wasn’t taking out-of-towners. So instead, at the age of 13, Walchuk moved four hours south to Kamloops where he earned a roster spot with the Kamloops Bantam AAA Blazers.
His dad, Stan, who works as a guide/outfitter, moved with him, while his mom, Marlene, stayed in McBride to work as a teacher and look after Walchuk’s sister, Aaron.
After leading the North Kamloops Midget AAA Lions in scoring as a 15-year-old, Walchuk earned the attention of the KIJHL Nelson Leafs, where he continued to impress in the 2008-09 season. He was the top rookie scorer, finishing ninth overall with 29-36-65 in 49 games.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound centreman then led all playoff scorers with 26 points in 16 games to help the Leafs claim the KIJHL championship.
“Good support from my family has helped me along, and coming into real good programs in Nelson and here in Vernon have helped my development and kept me going,” said Walchuk, who joined the Vipers after one year in Nelson.
He was already committed to the NCAA Division 1 Northern Michigan Wildcats – for the 2011-12 season – before coming to the Viper den.
“I went to Junior B and had a good season and all of a sudden all these schools are talking to me. From there I got some attention and learned about the programs and got some good offers,” said Walchuk, who remains grounded despite his rise to success.
“I just didn’t let it get to my head. I just let it happen, weighed out my options, and it just kind of happened all at one time. I didn’t even really know what college hockey was in Midget even.”
Walchuk, now 19, has been a key piece in the Vipers’ charge towards a third straight RBC national Junior A championship, leading his team in both regular-season (24-32-56) and playoff (10-5-15)scoring.
Vernon hosts the Spruce Grove Saints in Games 1 and 2 of the Doyle Cup regional series tonight and Saturday night respectively. The Snakes grounded the Saints in seven games in last year’s Doyle Cup. The winner will represent the Pacific region at the RBC Cup, April 30-May 8 in Camrose.
“It’s been awesome so far. We’ve got a great series coming up with Spruce Grove. There’s already a heated rivalry from last year and it’s going to be exciting this year. We’re ready for it, we’re confident and it should be a good ride.”
Walchuk may not be the biggest player, but he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty to score goals.
“He’s the type of player that will go to those tough areas, and when he does have the puck he loves to challenge guys one-on-one,” said Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner.
“From the top of the circles down, I don’t know if there is anyone better in our league. He’s great in tight areas and he has a great ability to spin off a guy and take it to the net. He just seems to find a way.”
Patrick McGillis, Walchuk’s linemate for the better part of two seasons, agrees.
“He’s just a really hard-working guy who sees the ice really well and he’s got a great set of hands. Just the style he plays separates him from the rest of the league.”
If there is a knock against Walchuk, it is his size, but that hasn’t seemed to matter much so far. Marty Stein, a part-time scout for the Detroit Red Wings, has watched him over the past two seasons, and aside from the typical growing pains of a developing junior player, has been impressed.
“Any time I’ve seen him come into an important game, he has risen to the challenge. He’s not afraid to be creative,” said Stein.
And while Walchuk hasn’t garnered much attention from NHL Central Scouting, that doesn’t necessarily mean his potential is limited.
“He’s a player that we want to watch as he goes through college and starts to play against bigger, faster skaters. He’s going to develop physically and mentally,” said Stein.
Added Ferner: “He’s going to be one of those guys that steps in and just starts contributing, not only offensively, but having the trust of the coach they he can put him out there in any situation.”
SNAKE BITES: Viper d-man Ryan Renz is rated 195th in the Central Scouting final term rankings of North American skaters. F Sahir Gill, of Boston University (6-18-24) is ranked 110th. Gill moved up 29 spots from the mid-term list. There are 139 European skaters rated separately…Spruce Grove 16-year-old d-man Matt Benning is the son of former NHL d-man Brian Benning. Brian, who racked up 568 games for five NHL teams, played alongside Ferner with the 1984-85 WHL Kamloops Blazers…Ferner played for Walt Kyle on the 1994-95 IHL San Diego Gulls. Kyle will coach Walchuk next year at Northern Michigan…Saints’ grad Dillon Simpson, a rookie with North Dakota (2-8-10), is rated 157th. He is the son of former NHLer Craig Simpson…Viper D Max Mowat and F Dane Muench practised in full gear and are close to being off injured reserve…Viper forward Mike Zalewski earned BCHL Player of the Week honours after he scored the series-clinching overtime winner against the Powell River Kings in Game 4 of the Fred Page Cup finals. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound New Hartford, N.Y. product is tied for second on the Vipers with five playoff goals.