(This article was originally published by FN reader Josh Schroeder at Cane Cast)
By: Josh Schroeder
There are two paths to becoming a revered alumnus of a junior hockey club. The first is that of the superstar, vaulting quickly to the pro ranks, putting your junior team in the spotlight during draft previews and prospect forecasts. The second requires four years of dedication, winning the hearts of the hometown fans with your on-ice sacrifice and community involvement.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes have seen both types of player come through the system in recent years. Zach Boychuk and Luca Sbisa were drafted early and then ascended to pursue fame and fortune as professionals, while players like Cam Braes and Carter Bancks found themselves just off of the NHL radar, but winning Hurricane fans’ hearts as committed two-way players. Twice undrafted, Bancks now has something to prove.
“… never drafted into the WHL, NHL, never signed an NHL deal until my 21 year old summer. I just believe in myself and believe that I’ll just find a way, work my way through it,” Bancks told me about his decision to continue chasing the dream as a pro hockey player. I caught up with the former Hurricane captain in Abbotsford where he is participating in his third training camp as a pro with the Heat.
Competition for spots in the AHL is a little tougher this year as a result of the NHL’s ongoing labour strife, and Bancks recognizes the challenge ahead of him. “Right now I’m just battling. There’s a ton of good players, it’s been a competitive camp.” A ton of good players, indeed. Seven forwards at Heat camp spent time with the Calgary Flames last season, and WHL standouts Max Reinhart (Kootenay) and Michael Ferland (Brandon) have also been added to the mix, meaning competition will be fierce for one of 13 anticipated spots up front on Heat coach Troy Ward’s final roster.
Still, Bancks hasn’t changed his approach to preparing for camp. “I did everything I could this summer to show up in the best shape I can be in. Best shape I’ve ever been in my life.” Also working in his favour is something that Hurricane fans should be familiar with: versatility. “If they need me to play first, second line minutes and contribute, I feel like I have that capability. But I also am quite comfortable playing a third, fourth line position, because I like playing with high energy; I like being physical.”
The physical aspect of Bancks’ game contributed to some injury trouble in his first two seasons with the Heat where he missed 72 games sidelined with concussions. He concedes that the injury troubles may have been caused by “being a little bit too reckless,” but he doesn’t want to stray too far from what’s brought him success. “I’ve got to keep playing that way, that’s why I’m successful … I’m willing to put my body on the line, but at certain times maybe not go flying in front of a 240 lb d-man. Maybe meet him at the puck and try to tie him up and steal the puck rather than hit him.”
Hurricane fans are all too familiar with players losing time to head injuries, especially after Michael Sofillas sat out all of last season while struggling with concussion problems. Bancks offered some advice to players in that situation.
“Number one thing is listen to your body … I tried to play a game only two weeks later and I wasn’t ready. But I had such a good opportunity, and I was really hot at the time, I was leading the team in scoring. I just didn’t want to let it slip by, and I tried to rush it back, and it ended up setting me back big time … If you’re not right, you can’t try and push through it.” As for regaining confidence after an injury, Sofillas is heeding the former captain’s advice: “You’ve got to get that first bump right away, remind your body, all the doubts you’ve had, that you’re good to go, and then just go for it.”
Bancks also reflected on his time with the Hurricanes, including the Eastern Conference title in 2008. “That ‘08 playoff run was pretty special. The way the town got behind us, the bond our team had … it was a really loud building throughout that whole playoff run and that made it tons of fun for us to play there … The highlight for me would probably have to be when we swept Calgary in the Eastern Conference finals.” Also among his best memories in Lethbridge: “My last game as a 20 year old was awesome. It was a little emotional just because that town had treated me so well and I’d had so much fun there.”
As for today’s Hurricanes, Bancks foresees good things. “I actually got a chance to skate with them once before I came out here to Abbotsford, and they’ve got a really good young group of core players. They might not be winning the championship this year, but in the next few years. The group that I was out there skating with looked like a real hard working character-type players.”
Now, it’s all about looking forward for Bancks as he seeks to make an impact in whatever role he earns with the Heat. “Wherever they need me to fit in, I’m willing to do that and every day I’m just trying to show up and show them how bad I want to be here … If I can make the other team’s top players’ life a little bit difficult, which is kind of what I did back in Lethbridge, that’s something I’ve kind of been thrown into in the last year, and something I really enjoy doing.” It’s a role that he and his feisty, never-quit attitude are well suited to.
Still bringing the same fire and determination that Hurricane fans witnessed for 262 games, Carter Bancks is poised to win the admiration of Heat fans as well. Don’t be surprised if you see him winning the hearts of NHL fans one day, too. After all, Carter Bancks always finds a way.