Daily News Sports Reporter
The Kamloops Jardine’s Blazers bantam Tier 1 team got pretty good at celebrating throughout the season.
But for some, being chosen in Thursday’s WHL bantam draft was as much a cause to celebrate as it was a relief.
The Blazers had eight players selected in Thursday’s bantam draft, which was held in Calgary. The eight Kamloops-based players chosen marked the most successful draft ever for Kamloops, and equaled the amount of locals selected over the previous six drafts, dating back to 2005.
The week leading up to the draft was quite stressful for the eligible Blazers, what with the actual hockey finished for the season and their fate in everyone else’s hands.
Defenceman Joe Hicketts, who last played in Sunday’s final at the B.C. Cup showcase tournament at Interior Savings Centre, was a popular guy the previous four days. He’s glad it’s over.
“We’ve been getting phone call after phone call,” said Hicketts, who was chosen 12th overall by Victoria. “I think I was on the phone more in this last week than I’m usually on it in a year.
“Team after team calling, asking more questions . . . but it was weird knowing you could do nothing about it. It’s out of your hands.”
The Blazers’ season was absolutely magical, there’s no other way to put it.
Not only did they win major tournaments in St. Albert and Medicine Hat, they also won the Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament in April — only the second time a Kamloops team has done so.
And Thursday was a nice reward for nearly half the Blazers’ 17-person roster.
Hicketts was one of two Kamloops players chosen in the first round, following forward Ryan Gropp, who was taken sixth overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Forward Carson Bolduc, a Salmon Arm native who played for the Blazers this season, went 59th overall to the Prince George Cougars, with Chad Butcher, also a forward, going 62nd overall to the Medicine Hat Tigers.
The Kootenay Ice selected defenceman Matt Murray 70th overall, with goaltender Liam McLeod going 182nd to the Kamloops Blazers, forward Mitchell Barker taken 206th by the Spokane Chiefs and goaltender Kyle Michalovsky chosen 221st by the Calgary Hitmen.
(The WHL website lists Barker as having been chosen by the Prince Albert Raiders, but he was in fact chosen by Spokane).
Hicketts and Gropp didn’t have to sweat through the day not knowing where they would be picked — both boys knew they had been selected before they headed off to school.
“I wasn’t expecting too much,” Gropp said. “I was expecting to go pretty high, but I had no idea where I was going to go.”
Gropp got a congratulatory phone call from Seattle general manager Russ Farwell.
“I just let him speak,” Gropp said. “I didn’t really have much to say — I was kind of in shock about what happened.”
Real life didn’t stop for the others, who spent the day at school, sitting on pins and needles.
Murray was sitting in a social studies class when he got a text message from his mother.
“It just said that Kootenay picked me,” Murray said. “The last four days, I’ve just been waiting. . . . I was curious, but I wouldn’t say I was stressed.”
For McLeod, the timing of his call couldn’t have been worse. He was doing a science test when his cell phone started ringing.
“Got a phone call from my mom and interrupted the whole class — it was a pretty good reason, I thought,” McLeod said. “The teacher understood after I told her what the call was about.”
McLeod really doesn’t know how well he did on the test.
“My mind wasn’t really in it after the phone call,” he admitted. “I was pretty excited, thinking about other stuff.”
He is only the sixth Kamloops player to be selected by the Blazers over the past 16 years, and was pleased to have received a phone call from goaltending coach Dan De Palma yesterday afternoon.
“I’m really glad — I really wanted to play here,” McLeod said. “I’m glad I get to stay at home, and I really like Dan De Palma — he’s a great goalie coach and I’m looking forward to working with him.”
The Blazers had a chance to select Gropp or Hicketts with the fourth pick, but neither boy was disappointed when they selected defenceman Jordan Thomson of Wawanesa, Man.
“I’m really happy that Seattle took me,” Gropp said. “It’s a good opportunity.”
“It would have been cool to have stayed in your hometown,” Hicketts added, “but it’s pretty cool that you get to go live somewhere else for a while and learn from other people’s experiences.”