Way back in early November 2019, the writer sat down with the five 20 year old veterans of Junior Hockey in Chase. The subject was …why Chase, why the HEAT? The responses follow and provide a glimpse into young junior hockey player’s travels and decisions in our Nation’s game.
The round table discussion included Cam “Watty” Watson, Evan “Hughie” Hughes, Colton “Niko” Nikiforuk, Caleb “Bienscher” Biensch and Vince “Benny” Bennedetto. Watson and Hughes are Salmon Arm products, Nikiforuk is from Maple Ridge, Biensch from Marsden Saskatchewan and Bennedetto from Edmonton Alberta. Their stories are as follows…
CAM WATSON’S friends Evan Hughes and Dallas Stewart tried to talk him into attending HEAT Prospects Camp with them. “I didn’t think I was ready for Junior. Hughie said come on it’s going to just be fun and a couple of nights sleeping at the rink. So, I talked to Foxy (Head Coach Brad Fox) and he let me in. From there I got invited to Main Camp and I was an Associate Player the 1st year, I loved the staff, the guys on the team and the way we were all treated. The next year I tried out and made the team. My Mom deserves a lot of credit for getting me here for early morning practices that first year.”
EVAN HUGHES spent his 16 year old year as an Associate Player for the Sicamous Eagles. “I had two options the second year, Sicamous or Chase. I signed with Chase because Watty talked so much about how he was treated. Watty wasright, the program, staff and guys were awesome.”
COLTON NIKIFORUK started the 2016-17 season with the Osoyoos Coyotes. “I was a school kid and they committed to me for the year. In November they wanted totrade me, even though I was in school. I got traded to the Pacific Junior Hockey League and bounced around until I decided to play for my Midget AAA team in Maple Ridge. Chase called and I signed with the Heat for 2017-18. In 2018-19 I went to the Junior A SJHL Nipawin Hawks for the season. I kept in touch with the guys in Chase and they convinced me to come back and finish my junior career on a high note with them”.
CALEB BIENSCH tells a different story. “I was in Midget AA and my older brothergot me a shot with Camrose Kodiaks in the AJHL. No sooner did I sign then I was released before the home opener. With all the Junior A teams with their rostersset I contacted a buddy that was playing for the KIJHL Kimberley Dynamiters andhe said come here. So, I arrived in Kimberley and they had 9 defencemen and 7 were veterans. I wanted to develop as a defenceman and the coach wanted me up front. So, I went home for a week and requested a trade. Mason Palaga was with the Dynamiters and he basically talked me into Chase. We drove around forhours talking about the HEAT. He loved it here and told me everything was great. So, within two days of arriving I was settled. It’s great here, a small town vibe like back home with an amazing billet home. I tried post secondary school this year but after a few weeks I missed this too much. I phoned Foxy and he said come on back. The guys were surprised when I walked in the room. Making this the best decision I have ever made, this team is the best I’ve ever had. Unrealboys, coaching and staff.”
VINCE BENNEDETTO toured Western Canada. “I left home in Edmonton to play Midget AAA in Grand Prairie. At 18 years of age I tried out with the Kindersley Klippers of the Junior A SJHL, but I was cut. They suggested I play Junior B for the West Central Rage in Kerrobert Saskatchewan, which I did for that year and loved it. In 2018-19 I moved on to the Red Lake Minors Junior A organization in Northern Ontario and played the full season. Early this year they determined they didn’t want to go with 2 twenty year old tenders and I was released. On the drive home to Edmonton I mulled over where to play, thinking the KIJHL is somewhere I wanted to play. I stopped at a gas station in Winnipeg and my phone rang, it was Brad Fox offering me a spot on the HEAT. Wow, it was definitely meant to be, so I decided to come, definitely a good choice and I am glad to be here.”
The round table wound down with the five veterans chatting about this year and the team. Watson and Hughes felt this was the closest group of guys in their 4 years being with the HEAT. Biensch exclaimed that the 2 years were the best time of his life, everyone here is within walking distance of each other. Benedetto stated the guys were real welcoming when he arrived and it was easy to become part of the group. Watson commented that with five old guys it spread the pressure out. As they got up to go, they all agreed that they wanted the year to be a great one, to win big!