Christmas came early Sunday night for Nelson’s Dryden Hunt when he scored his first Western Hockey League goal in the Regina Pats’ 8-4 win over the Kamloops Blazers.
“It was unreal,” Hunt told the Nelson Star about the major milestone in his young hockey career. “I was due, every game the guys were telling I was due so it’s good to get that first one.”
Hunt’s marker came late in the third period in front of a home crowd at Regina’s Brandt Centre. Coming off the right wing, the Nelson Minor Hockey graduate picked up the puck after a faceoff in the Kamloops zone and skated it into the corner.
“I just took a shot and it kind of bounced off the goalie and went short side in the net,” Hunt said. “It wasn’t very pretty, but it was alright for the first one.
“I kind of stressed about it too much, I even dreamed about it a few times. So it was good to get it.”
The official scoresheet has Hunt’s goal at 16:47 of the third with assists going to Trent Ouellette and Tanner Olstad. Between the pipes for Kamloops was Cole Cheveldave.
Throughout his minor hockey days and into major midget last season, Hunt saw his name on the scoresheet often. As a 16-year-old rookie in the best junior hockey league in the world, the points have trickled in much slower than Hunt is accustomed (he also has two assists on the season).
“[Former Kootenay Midget Ice coach] Simon Wheeldon told me that every level you go up, the goalies get that much better and you have to get better as well,” said Hunt. “It took me a while to get used to that, but hopefully there will be more to come.”
With the Midget Ice last season, Hunt didn’t get his first goal until 10 games into the 40 game schedule. After he scored, they came in bunches and Hunt finished the season tied for 10th in the league with 19 goals and 28 assists.
Despite not scoring, Hunt said his first season in the WHL has been a great experience to this point.
“It’s really a professional league,” he said. “There are lots of games so it’s kind of hard to get up for every game, but that is just the extra challenge. This is why everybody plays in this league and that is why all the best players are here, it gets you better for the next level.”
Still in Grade 11, Hunt said balancing school and a busy hockey schedule has been a challenge.
“School wise it takes a toll,” said Hunt. “We will have a Tuesday game where we will go to Prince Albert that is five hours north of Regina… that kind of trip is really tough. Then we go on a trip to the States where you miss a week and a half, that makes it tough to catch up.
“You have to stay on top everything that much more.”
The other big adjustment is that Hunt is one of the youngest players in the league. Having just celebrated his 16th birthday in late-November, the 5’11” right winger is matching up nightly against players that can be as old as 20.
“They are a lot bigger and a lot stronger,” said Hunt. “You have these big defenceman in the corners, it makes it so much more difficult. But when I am playing, I’m not a 16-year-old, I’m just another player on the ice.”
Hunt has appeared in 26 of the Pats’ 33 games so far this season. Though he has been the star of his team at every level to this point, Hunt now has to get used to being a healthy scratch at times.
“The biggest thing I have learned is to stay positive,” said Hunt. “You play three games in a row and then have a weak game and you are healthy scratch. You have to stay positive and work hard in practice because that is key for a young guy getting into the line-up.”
The Pats are back in action on Wednesday night against the Kelowna Rockets. The team — which currently sits fourth in the WHL’s East Division — then embarks on a three-game Alberta roadtrip with games in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton.
After the Alberta swing the team gets a few days off for a Christmas break and Hunt will come back to see family and friends in Nelson next Monday.