Kansas or England? Vernon’s Colton Sparrow was brushing up on his geography and wondering about his hockey location for next season.
His Kelowna-based agent PJ (Pat) Sullivan and Vernon Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner both made some calls and the skate-till-ya-drop forward is now the property of the ECHL Wichita Thunder.
Coached by Malcolm Cameron, a former bench boss of the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats, the Thunder are the ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, AHL’s Bakersfield Condors and powered by Toyota.
“It all happened really fast,” said Sparrow, named Top Forward in the 2014 Royal Bank national Junior A hockey tournament in Vernon. “Ferner had some nice things to say about me and the Wichita guy knew my coach, Todd Johnson, in Regina (University Cougars). It’s nice to have references going to bat for you.”
A 24-year-old arts student, Sparrow spent four B.C. Hockey League with the Vipers, ringing up 32 goals and 166 points. Blessed with soft hands and great vision, the Vernon product boosted the Snakes to the RBC title in 2010 in Dauphin, Man. and a runner-up the following year in Camrose, Alta.
He earned a scholarship with the University of Alaska Nanooks, pocketing six goals and 15 points in two seasons before transferring to the University of Regina. He compiled 8-14-22 in two years in Regina. He joined his buddy, ex-Kootenay Ice forward Zach McPhee, with the Cougars.
Rookies in the ECHL earn US$400 a week with veterans collecting $455 a week. Teams normally run three forward lines and can play three games in a weekend.
“I’m going in with an open mind,” said Sparrow. “I’ve talked to guys who were on two-way NHL deals and guys like (buddy Basara) Marcus who was on an entry-level contract and had a rough experience because he got traded a lot. I’ve also talked to other guys who have done it. Some guys get to a spot they like and love the league. Ferner said, ‘Spares, you’ll be fine because you work so hard.’”
The Thunder, who had a handful of B.C. products on their roster a year ago, finished fourth in the Mountain Division last year with 34 wins. They play out of the 13,400-seat Intrust Bank Arena. Wichita is the largest city in Kansas with a population of 400,000.
Wichita earlier signed rookie d-man Justin Lemcke, who led the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Ontario League title an appearance in the Memorial Cup.
Sparrow, who was trying to land a spot in England, where he could secure his masters degree while playing, and Basara are spending the summer in Kelowna, parking cars at the Eldorado Hotel.