He may have dropped to second place among penalty-minute leaders in the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL), but there’s still plenty of time for Squamish native Bret Higham to catch up.
But don’t mistake the Richmond Sockeyes forward as a goon. Standing at six-foot-three and weighing in at 213 pounds does tend to attract the attention of the officials and Higham is fine with that, as long as the refs aren’t the only ones noticing his play.
The Squamish Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) product caught the eye of not only the refs, but also the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and Higham suited up for the first time with the Junior A squad earlier this month.
“It was so exciting,” he said. “I played in back-to-back games and I wasn’t really nervous before the game, but when I got on the ice it was a big rush.”
Higham played in front of a crowd of 2,700 people in the provincial capital and said he hopes to be called up again before the season is over.
“The first game was pretty nerve-wracking, but I was actually playing on the second line,” he said. “The guys on that team are so mature and professional and made me feel really welcome.”
He spent his formative years in the sport in the SMHA before heading to the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna for his first year of midget. Higham said the experience at the academy helped him become a better player.
“It was so good for me,” he said, noting that he spent two school years at the academy. “They helped me develop so much. I did miss Squamish a lot, but you’re with your best friends and teammates for every single minute of the day. I love hockey and want to take it further and this was the best thing for me to do.”
The Pursuit of Excellence is where other young Squamish hockey standouts like Dalton and Josh Thrower helped to hone their skills. Higham said he’s developed a friendship with both players and even billeted with the Thrower family in North Vancouver when he and Josh played on the Vancouver Northwest Giants in the British Columbia Major Midget League (BCMML). After winning the B.C. division with the Giants last year, Higham started his training early and managed to connect with Sockeyes coach Aaron Wilbur.
“I got to know Bret over the summer and he’s a big kid, a very good player and a great teammate,” Wilbur said. “He’s been a great fit for us this year.”
Wilbur said Higham brings toughness to the team, but pointed out that the penalties he takes don’t harm the team.
“He brings an energy on the ice that’s tough to find,” he said. “Bret has the skill set to change the momentum of a game with a big hit. As a group, we talk about good and bad penalties and Bret’s are a product of him being forceful on the ice. They’re a by-product of his role.”
The Sockeyes head coach admitted that it’s likely that Higham will move up to the BCHL either this year or next year, but Wilbur said he’s glad to have him for the time being. For his part, Higham said he’s enjoyed his time in Richmond.
“They’re such a good organization and have helped put me in the right direction,” he said.
It doesn’t hurt that the Sockeyes are again challenging for the top spot in the PJHL with a record of 19 wins, five losses and one overtime loss. Higham, who attended Brackendale Elementary School and Don Ross Secondary School, is still living in Squamish but keeps busy with a number of practices and games with Sockeyes each week. He said there’s still a few things he needs to work on.
“I think I just need to realize I have more time with the puck than I think I do,” he said, noting the game is much faster in the BCHL. “And I’ve got to work on my hands.”
Follow Higham on Twitter - @GiggityHiggs or visit www.richmondsockeyes.com for more information.