Meteoric is a word that shouldn’t be used too often — but this story just can’t be told without using it at least once.
Minor hockey has basically two streams for players to work in, from the atom division and up: recreational or “house” hockey and various tiers of “rep hockey” for players seeking a high-performance experience. Once you decide to stay in the house league, your chances of breaking into rep diminish as the years ramp up.
Travel and cost have been factors preventing Hope & District Minor Hockey Association from offering rep hockey for most of its 35-plus years, but the chief challenge has been numbers. If you don’t have enough talented players — and enough families that want to support the extra travel and related costs — you keep things basic.
That was the scenario that Hope’s Dale Howell found himself in, right through his first year of bantam. Then he decided to try out for a Chilliwack rep team in 2010.
After a number of years of blockades around the turn of the century, Chilliwack Minor Hockey has opened its rep leagues to Hope and Agassiz/Harrison players… but understandably, an out-of-towner would have to be markedly better to be chosen above a Chilliwack-based player.
Howell was selected to Chilliwack’s top bantam team, the triple-A.
Last year, stepping into midget rep, he fended off second and third-year players and made the AAA team again.
Now 16 years old, Howell just got back from the junior B Beaver Valley Nitehawks’ camp in Fruitvale, east of Trail.
The Nitehawks want him — but the Grade 11 Hope Secondary student has other plans. He chose to play for the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds of the B.C. major midget league.
“It was a good camp,” said Howell on Monday, “but major midget is a good league. I’ve got to do what is best for me.”
Before he headed to Fruitvale — hometown of NHL players Adam Deadmarsh and Barrett Jackman — Howell had already been carded by the Thunderbirds. Though he chose to come back home, the left-shooting left winger said he can still play up to five regular season games with the Nitehawks as an affiliated player (AP), as well as playoff games.
T-Birds’ coach, Troy Campbell, has different plans for Howell.
“I’ve got to talk to him about that. I’d like to get him as an AP with the Chilliwack Chiefs,” said Campbell. “It would be a better situation for him.
“Dale tried out with us last year,” added the coach. “We saw a lot of potential in him. He’s a good skater with great hockey sense. He sees the ice well — and we see him as a set-up guy on offense. It’s a huge step up for him.”
The T-Birds have after-school practices planned for Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Abbotsford — and Thursdays at Twin Rinks in Sardis, giving Howell and his two teammates from last year, Kyle Westeringh and Sean Longfellow, a shorter commute. Howell only has his learner’s drivers licence so far — so his mom, Denise, will be busy this winter.
“We’ll be playing our home games on Saturdays at Prospera, right before the Chiefs’ games,” said coach Campbell. This will give junior and college scouts an easy opportunity to see the up-and-comers. “It’s free admission for our games.”
At 5’10” and 165 pounds, Howell isn’t going to bowl over anybody in this high-paced league.
He has other assets, which include, “Being smart with the puck and making players around me better. And I’ve always relied on my feet.”
Howell describes himself as an A and B student and he plans to take biology and chemistry at HSS this year.
“The main thing I want to get from playing hockey is an education,” he asserted.