Going from Bantam A to the big leagues
It wasn’t too long ago that Tyler Wotherspoon and Laurent Brossoit lived just a few minutes apart in Cloverdale, playing minor hockey on the same team.
A lot has happened since those days with the Cloverdale Colts Bantam A team. They spent the next season together in Major Midget hockey with the Valley West Hawks.
Both went on to play junior hockey, Brossoit with the Edmonton Oil Kings and Wotherspoon with the Portland Winterhawks. Both were drafted by a National Hockey League (NHL) team. And both will start their professional careers this season.
But last weekend might have felt like old times for the two 20-year-olds.
Wotherspoon and Brossoit were on the same team again, playing for the Calgary Flames at the Young Stars competition in Penticton.
“We lived about five minutes away from each other,” said Brossoit, a goaltender. “Even when we were on the Cloverdale Colts, we were good friends, we’d hang out together.”
It was all business for the two players last weekend. The Young Stars competition featured the young minor leaguers and up-and-coming juniors from five NHL clubs. In addition to the Flames, the host Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks all sent a group of 18-22 year-olds to Penticton for three games played over five days at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
For Brossoit and Wotherspoon, it was the first time wearing an NHL jersey in a professional game.
Brossoit started in two of the three Flames games, a 5-2 win over the Oilers Thursday night and a 3-2 loss to San Jose Sunday evening. He made 52 saves on 57 shots.
Wotherspoon took a regular shift on defence, and drew praise from coach Troy Ward after his second game Saturday, a 4-1 victory over the Canucks.
“One thing you like about Tyler is he’s so good at times you don’t even notice he plays,” said Ward, who will be head coach of the Abbotsford Heat this season. “He’s been steady, and he keeps it real simple.”
Admitting it took a few shifts to get his timing back, Wotherspoon was pleased with his first test at the professional level.
“I felt good. I was a little slow after the summer break, but after a while I felt comfortable out there,” he said after practice Saturday morning. “Right now I’m just trying to play my game, play it steady, and show the management they can trust me and play my role.
“I like to be a reliable guy, and getting the trust of the coaches is huge for me. I feel most comfortable when I’m not noticed and playing my game.”
Both Brossoit and Wotherspoon have enjoyed plenty of success in Major Junior hockey, including each winning a championship at the expense of the other.
Brossoit’s Oilers defeated the Winterhawks in a seven-game Western Hockey League (WHL) final in 2011-12. Last spring, it was Wotherspoon and the Winterhawks skating off with the championship after defeating Edmonton in six games.
“Even when we separated in our junior careers we always ended up meeting in the finals,” said Brossoit. “It was awesome, there was some pride and competitiveness within the friendship. A lot of people can’t say that they played against their best friend in a WHL final.”
Teammates for many seasons before becoming friendly rivals in the WHL, they will likely be on the same side again. Barring the unexpected, both are likely to be living at home in Surrey while playing for the Flames’ farm team in the American Hockey League – the Abbotsford Heat.
“It’s a win-win situation for me,” said Wotherspoon. “It would be amazing to play in Calgary and play in a great city. But even going back to Abbotsford there’s a lot of great things there. It would be an honour to play for them, and have a lot of friends and family at the games.”
“To have the chance to play in your backyard is a pretty cool feeling,” Brossoit said. “I can even live at home, I’m so close.”
Maybe just five minutes away from his teammate.