It’s a long way from Brennan Park Arena to the Scotiabank Saddledome, but Squamish Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) product Josh Thrower seems to be making the transition with relative ease.
The 16-year-old second round draft pick in the 2011 Western Hockey League (WHL) draft has secured a spot on the Calgary Hitmen and has helped anchor one of the stingiest defensive corps in the league early into the season.
“It’s unreal and everything is going good so far,” Thrower said, moments after the Hitmen defeated the Edmonton Oil Kings 6-5 on Sunday (Oct. 7). “The team is doing really good so far this year and there’s a really good mood in the locker room.”
Winning can help the mood of a team and weeks into the season, the Hitmen are doing just that. As of press time, Calgary hadn’t lost a game in its first six and was ranked in the top ten in the country. Thrower has contributed, picking up his first point against Prince Albert on Oct. 5 and becoming a regular part of the lineup after a back injury saw him miss the team’s first three games. He said it’s easy to get pumped up playing in front of crowds of several thousand and in a pro facility like the Saddledome.
“I’ve never played in a rink like this before,” he said, of the 17,000-plus-seat facility. “The fans here are unbelievable and they help make this experience a lot better for me.”
Thrower said the Hitmen have a great staff of coaches and trainers, with familiar names like Joel Otto and Kelly Kisio in the Hockey Operations division. But he praised the work of assistant coach Brent Kisio in helping him develop his game.
“The guys are a lot faster and stronger than what I was used to in the BCMML last year,” he said. “But the staff have tried to focus on my speed and quickness and getting me to keep my feet moving. I’ve worked a lot with Brent and he’s given me quite a few tips on what I need to do to play in a league like this.”
Calgary boasts one of the biggest defensive corps in the WHL with five rearguards standing at 6-foot-3 or bigger. In fact, Thrower is the shortest of the bunch at six feet. He said he hasn’t been paired with one partner specifically, but has been playing and learning from different teammates. He also noted that it’s nice to have fellow rookie and childhood friend Jake Virtanen on the team.
“It’s making the year a lot easier having my buddy Jake on the team,” he said. “We’ve known each other eight or nine years and it’s really good coming into a league like this with him.”
Thrower will get a chance to show his stuff when the Hitmen arrive in Vancouver to take on the Giants on Oct. 20. What makes the night even more special for Thrower is it’s the annual SMHA fundraiser game, meaning the crowd will be packed with Squamish residents.
“It’s going to be a big deal for me,” he said. “It’ll be nice to play in front of a crowd like that and I grew up watching the Giants my whole life so it will be surreal playing against them.”
Thrower joked that perhaps even more rewarding is that he “stole” the fundraising game from his brother Dalton, who expected the event when his Saskatoon Blades come to Vancouver in November.
“Yeah, I pretty much took it from him,” he said, laughing. “My brother thought he was going to get the game, but I managed to take it away from him, so that’s pretty good.”
Josh said he and Dalton stay in constant communication during the year and are looking forward to when the Blades come to Calgary on Nov. 30.
One thing that Squamish residents should prepare for when seeing Thrower this year is a little bit of hair on his upper lip. The youngster has managed to grow a moustache and looks forward to showing it off in Vancouver.
“That ’stache took about a month or a month and a half to grow,” he said, laughing. “I’ve been trying to grow it out for a while. I think I started Movember early so I could keep up with some of the 20 year olds.”
Thrower and the Hitmen come to Vancouver on Oct. 20. For details on how to buy tickets to the game locally, visit www.squamishminorhockey.com.