For the head coach and two players with the West Kelowna Warriors, the trip east to the Prairies this week for the Western Canada Cup is a homecoming of sorts.
Rylan Ferster, and forwards Kylar Hope and Reed Gunville were born and raised in Saskatchewan and played all of their minor hockey there.
And while the three all grew up several hours away from the small city of Estevan in the southeastern part of the province, none expects it to take long to feel right at home.
“It’s really special to be going back home,” said Ferster, Warriors coach and GM, who grew up in the Prince Albert area of northern Saskatchewan. “I’m as proud as anyone is to be from there, it’s a great place and I love going back…especially for the reason that we are.”
Ferster’s B.C. Hockey League champions will open the five-team regional tournament Saturday night against the host Estevan Bruins.
The top two teams will advance to the RBC Cup national junior A championship May 14 to 21 in Lloydminster, Alberta and Saskatchewan’s border city.
If all goes as planned, the Warriors could be spending the next three weeks in the prairie province—and nothing would make Kylar Hope happier.
“We packed for three weeks, so I hope I’ll run out of clothes and have to send some washing home with my mom,” Hope said with a laugh. “It would be pretty crazy because I grew up (near Lloydminster)…but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got a lot of work to do before that.”
The 19-year-old Hope hails from Lashburn, Sask., just 20 minutes from Lloydminster, but a full seven hours from Estevan.
Still, the Warriors’ team MVP will be well supported by familiar faces, his family in particular.
“My parents and grandparents are coming to watch, it’ll be nice to have them there…it should be a fun week,” Hope said. “I’ve never actually been to Estevan, but I think I’ll still feel like I’m home.”
Like Ferster, Gunville is from Prince Albert. While his dad—the head scout of the Prince Albert Raiders—will be at the WHL bantam draft in Calgary, the 19-year-old’s mom will be making the trip south for the tournament. He also several cousins living in the Estevan area so should a have formidable cheering section of his own.
Gunville said he’s happy to be back home and is thoroughly enjoying the ride in his first BCHL season.
“It’s been incredible, to be a rookie coming in and be part of this is pretty special,” Gunville said. “Some guys wait their whole careers to be in this position. It’s especially nice to be able to go back to Saskatchewan to finish the season.”
In addition to Ferster, Hope and Gunville, Warriors’ owner Mark Cheyne also has Saskatchewan roots. Cheyne grew up on a farm near Herschel, Sask., in the west central area of the province.
After Saturday’s opener with the host Bruins, the Warriors will take on Brooks (Alberta) on Sunday, Portage (Manitoba) on Tuesday and Melfort (Saskatchewna) next Thursday.