By MARK HUNTER
Daily News Sports Reporter
They’ve been together for their entire careers, from atom to the Youth Olympics to their last seasons of minor hockey at Penticton’s Okanagan Hockey Academy.
But Ryan Gropp and Joe Hicketts will head in different directions in a few weeks, the first time they’ll have played apart since they were seven or eight years old.
Fittingly, the pair has been put together at this week’s Team Pacific Camp — not only on Team Black, but also in the dorms.
“It’s unbelievable — we billeted together in Penticton, shared the same room,” Hicketts said. “Now, we get put in the same dorm here with (Carson) Bolduc and Markson Bechtold.
“It’s kind of crazy how this all works out with me and him.”
Gropp and Hicketts are among the 68 players from B.C. and Alberta taking part in the Team Pacific Camp, which continues today and ends Sunday at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre. From this camp, a team will be selected to play in the U17 World Hockey Challenge in Drummondville and Victoriaville, Que., from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4.
Both players are suiting up for Team Black. Unless they both make Team Pacific, it may be their last time playing hockey on the same team.
At the end of the month, both boys will head off to camps for their respective junior teams, Hicketts to the WHL’s Victoria Royals, and Gropp to the BCHL’s Penticton Vees.
“It’s kind of funny that we’d end up on this team,” Gropp said. “We’ve played with each other the past seven or eight years.”
Pretty much from the start of their competitive hockey careers, Gropp, a forward, and Hicketts, a defenceman, have been inseparable.
They played together all the way through bantam, where they helped the Jardine’s Blazers win the Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament in April 2011. A month after that, they were chosen in the first round of the WHL’s bantam draft — Gropp sixth overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds, and Hicketts 12th by Victoria.
Prior to last season, they both moved to Penticton, where they played with the OHA. They also played together with Team B.C. at the U-16 Challenge Cup in Moose Jaw last fall, before competing at the Youth Olympics in December in Innsbruck, Austria, where Canada finished third.
Gropp, who is still determining whether he’ll go the NCAA or WHL route, also appeared in two games with the Vees last season, scoring a goal. Camp is about a month away.
“It’s going to be a huge jump, playing against 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds,” he said. “I’m trying to get as strong and as fast as possible and prepare the best I can.
“I’m going to be one of the younger guys out there, so I have to be prepared.”
Hicketts, on the other hand, is going the WHL route, and attended camp and played a regular-season game with the Royals in 2011-12.
Victoria made some changes in the offseason, moving Marc Habscheid out of his general manager/head coach positions and into a non-hockey role with the company that owns the Royals. The Royals brought in Cam Hope to be GM and Dave Lowry to be head coach.
Lowry, who coached the Calgary Hitmen to a 59-9-3-1 record in 2008-09, told Cleve Dheensaw of the Victoria Times Colonist that he likes “an up-tempo game.”
For Hicketts, a speedy 5-foot-8 defenceman, that could be good news.
“I don’t know. I like to be offensive, but I have a responsibility, as a defenceman, to play defence,” Hicketts said. “It might be a more suitable position for me, to be able to jump into the rush . . . but we’ll see what happens.
“I’m really excited to meet (Lowry) and hopefully training camp goes well.”
Hicketts and Gropp aren’t the only Kamloops players looking to crack Team Pacific’s lineup.
Defencemen Matt Murray and Carter Cochrane, goaltender Liam McLeod and forward Chad Butcher also are taking part in camp. So is forward Carson Bolduc, a Salmon Arm native who played for the Jardine’s Blazers in 2010-11.
There isn’t a whole lot of reminiscing amongst the former bantam teammates.
“Right now we’re all focused on this team,” Gropp said. “We all want to make this team and we’re focused on playing games and having a good week.”
The action continues today on McArthur Island, with practices at 9, 10:15 and 11:30 a.m., and 12:45 p.m. Team Grey, featuring Murray, will take on Team Red, whose roster includes McLeod, Cochrane and Butcher, at 6 p.m.
Gropp, Hicketts, Bolduc and Team Black will meet Team White at 8:15 p.m.
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