The Prince Alberta Raiders open their training camp on Sept. 1 and among the players reporting will be three freshly drafted Cochrane players.
The Raiders were highly active in the spring WHL draft, making 11 draft selections, including five in the top 50 overall selections. Cochrane's Riley Boychuk, Bennett Kelly, and Ty Krooshoop were among them.
Boychuk says while the 2008 players aren't eligible to make the team, they'll all be there to get to know the organization.
"We still go there to meet the coaches, players, fans, see the town and facility, so it will be a very cool experience," says Riley Boychuk, who was captain of the provincial champion Airdrie Xtreme last season.
What is especially exciting for the three is the possibility that they will be able to continue to play together.
"All three of us have played together quite a while," says Bennett Kelly. "We played on separate teams a couple of years, but we're pretty tight."
"It was one of the coolest things ever," says Ty Krooshoop, "because Riley, Bennett, and I have been playing together all our lives so we can keep doing that. I wouldn't want to complete my journey with any other people. It was really awesome."
He was fired up about Boychuk and Kelly being drafted by the same team even before he went to the club later in the draft.
"It was actually kind of crazy because I was staring at the draft nonstop, and 10 seconds before I got drafted, I gave up. I said, 'OK, it's not going to happen, so I shut it off. I was talking with my buddy when my dad called me and said, "Dude, it happened!"
In May, they gathered with their families for a brief celebration, but as it stated on the celebratory cake, "It's a privilege, not a right." They've continued to train hard for the season ahead and the opportunity that lies ahead.
Boychuk has confirmed he isn't staying with the Airdrie AAA program and instead has joined the Northern Alberta Xtreme Prep U18 program in Edmonton.
Prince Albert Raiders GM Curtis Hunt is high on the three Cochrane players they were able to draft. He says they all were standouts last season and showed plenty of growth throughout the season. Here are a few of his thoughts on what caught their attention.
"Riley is a very intelligent hockey player. He makes plays that most fans don't see from the top," says Hunt. "It's like he has eyes in the back of his head. He's unselfish with the puck, yet he knows when to shoot it. He plays a 200ft. game, so he's responsible in his own zone."
Hunt says his commitment and talent stood out in the Alberta Cup, where the Raiders took a good look at potential draft picks.
"He was 85 per cent on faceoffs, and that was playing with a sore foot."
He says there's more to Boychuk than raw talent.
"Once you get to know him as a young man and know the family, I think that's where it's really impressive. He's a caring individual, he's thoughtful, he's one of those players that believe what the coaches are trying to sell that the most important guy is beside you.
"We see that leadership in Riley to not only improves his own game but to makes those around him better, so it was a real easy decision for us to take him as one of our two top picks."
Bennett Kelly's mom is from Prince Albert and his dad, Steve, is a Raider alumnus who went on to have an extremely successful professional career.
Hunt says that's a great story to tell, but it's not the whole one.
"What we noticed with Bennett was his improvement throughout the year was incredible from where he started to where he finished.
"Whenever there was a fire or their team was in trouble, he had an ability with intelligence, hockey sense, calmness, poise, grit at times, to settle things down and put out fires, and make good simple plays.
"We thought he defended extremely well, we think he is a strong skater, and we think he's going to round out to be an excellent defenceman."
"He earned himself that spot. We were excited he was available when we got him and we're excited to see him in our camp with his new peer group and see where he fits in and watch him develop over the next couple of years."
Hunt gives credit to his head scout and scouting team for picking up on the talent of Ty Krooshoop, who played for the U15AA Timberwolves last season. Most players selected played Triple-A last season, but Hunt says that's not always the deciding factor.
"Ty was an under-the-radar player, but he was a point-a-game guy. He played incredibly huge minutes this year. Again, he's another player we thought really developed, another player who really understands the game extremely well, and is a real driver and climber."
"He could be one of those players who has that story where he loves to play, he plays hard wherever he goes and doesn't need to be in any particular league or any particular place because he loves the game and is creating himself a great opportunity."
Hunt says the 15-year-old players are eligible to be affiliates and play up to five games while sorting out the club's education and development agreements. Boychuk already signed his in May. Once agreements are finalized, they are eligible for up to a maximum of a five-year post-secondary scholarship and development by the club.
"It's pretty inclusive. There's a lot of work. We provide all the tools and we just ask the kids to bring the work and the attitude. A lot of good things could happen within those two elements."
The success of the Airdrie Extreme has been well-documented, and much of that is to the credit of a strong crop of Cochrane players, who caught the eye of scouts across the WHL. Six Cochrane area players were drafted by WHL clubs and another who cut his teeth with the Timberwolves program was recruited out of Texas.
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