Growing up in Spirit River, Alta., Rylan Yaremko was a wide-eyed seven-year-old fan when he watched his first RBC Cup in 2004 in nearby Grande Prairie.
Twelve years later, the 19-year-old defenceman will have a vastly different perspective when his West Kelowna Warriors step on the ice this weekend in Lloydminster for the start of the 2016 national junior A hockey championship.
“It’s one of those things you hear about growing up, and I even saw one (RBC Cup), but you never picture yourself being in it,” Yaremko said from Saskatoon where the team stayed and practised this week. “Now that it’s happening, it’s pretty surreal.
“I’m really just embracing it right now,” he added. “It’s something that you might only experience once in your life, so hopefully we can make the most of the opportunity.”
The road to the RBC Cup has been a long but rewarding one for Yaremko and the Warriors who fought through four tough rounds to win the BCHL title, then another five games to claim their first ever Western Canada Cup last weekend in Estevan, Sask.
Now, well-rested and focused, Yaremko said his teammates are ready to go back to work in pursuit of the ultimate prize.
It all starts Saturday night against the hometown Lloydminster Bobcats inside what is expected to be a raucous 1,700-seat Centennial Civic Centre.
“Everybody in our room has been selling out every shift in the playoffs and we need to keep doing that,” said Yaremko, who recently landed a scholarship at Northern Michigan. “We just have to stick to our game plan and execute.
“We’re confident going in,” he added, “but at the same time we can’t be too comfortable with what we’ve done. That first game is going to be sold out, the atmosphere is going to be unreal. It’s going to be important for us to get off to a good start.”
The five-team round robin tournament also features the Alberta junior league’s Brooks Bandits, and the Carleton Place Canadians and Trenton Golden Hawks from Ontario.
The RBC Cup final is set for Sunday, May 22.
Destiny for Desbiens…
Two years ago, forward Jonathan Desbiens was at a crossroads in his hockey career.
Should he return to the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League or accept an invitation to play junior A in the Okanagan ?
With the West Kelowna Warriors about to compete for an RBC Cup title this week, the Montreal native clearly has no qualms about his decision to head west.
“I’m not regretting it, that’s for sure,” said Desbiens, 20. “My time here has been great, and this year has been unreal.”
Desbiens has been one of the Warriors’ most dangerous offensive weapons over the last two campaigns, scoring 71 regular season goals, and adding 15 more in the 2016 playoffs.
Warriors head coach and GM Rylan Ferster spotted Desbiens at a camp in Boston two summers ago.
“I had offers from different teams, I could have gone back to the USHL but my family and I talked about it and we liked the BCHL,” said Desbiens, who will attend Bentley University in Massachusetts next season. “Rylan saw me play in Boston and showed a lot of interest, so that was part of it, too. It’s worked out pretty well.”
As for the keys to the Warriors’ extended playoff run, Desbiens said much of it simply comes down to character and commitment, from top to bottom.
“This is a great group of guys, everybody has worked really hard to get here,” he said. “We owe it to our coach, our owner and the staff, they’ve all been pulling in the same direction. We have a very tight group and it’s been paying off.”
Scholastic kudos for Gilliss…
Warriors’ forward Lane Gillis has been named to the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s All-Academic All-Champions team.
The new award recognizes academic excellence and the three Cs—Character, Community and Competition—for the fulltime student athlete.
Gilliss, from Peachland, was awarded a $500 scholarship and a certificate by the CJHL and Jostens Canada.
Images courtesy of http://www.greystokephoto.com