There are times when Sawyer Hunt would rather be knee deep in water than skating on a rink.
The middle child of Nelson’s first hockey family, Hunt enjoys what author Izaak Walton once coined as the contemplative man’s recreation. He discovered fly fishing during his two years playing for the Dynamiters in Kimberley, where his best friend’s father ran a fishing shop.
“He would take us on these rafting trips and we would catch like 50 fish, they were like $600 tours, and I would just go on them for free,” says Hunt. “We would just catch so many fish and I thought it was so much fun.”
Waiting around for fish to bite didn’t hold much appeal to Hunt.
“Fly fishing, you’re always moving and you’re always just trying to get to that next place. I’m not that patient so fly fishing you’re always doing something. That kind of makes it better.”
Of course, the Nelson Leafs didn’t acquire Hunt for his casting technique. He was picked up in a trade with Kimberley in June to add his marquee name and playmaking prowess to a team that was anemic on offence last season. That is, if he even plays for them.
Hunt, who will be on the ice for the Leafs’ training camp today until Monday at the Nelson and District Community Complex, still has a try-out planned later this month with the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles. He’ll consider joining the Eagles if he makes the roster, but even that isn’t a sure thing.
There is, after all, a draw to playing in his hometown.
“It’s special,” he says. “There [were] so many hometown kids on my Kimberley team and I just saw how much they loved it, going out playing in front of family and friends all the time. So I think it’s going to be pretty fun if I do suit up and I come out that first game.”
Hunt, like older brother Dryden and younger sister Reece, was actually born in Kimberley. The family moved to Nelson in 2004, and Hunt later followed his brother’s path by playing minor hockey. He went to Trail for midget prior to his rookie season two years ago with the Dynamiters.
All he’s known since is winning hockey. Kimberley won the Cyclone Taylor Cup in his first season and nearly won another last season when the Dynamiters fell in five games to 100 Mile House in the championship series.
It was Hunt’s playoff performance in the spring that helped make him one of the Leafs’ top trade targets. He had 14 goals and 21 assists in 45 regular season games, which would have been the second most points on last year’s Leafs’ roster.
In the post-season though, Hunt came alive with five goals and 11 assists in 19 games.
“To step in there as a first-year player and win a championship is pretty cool. To do it the second year and come that close, it was a little upsetting but we just had too many injuries and too many guys hurt in the last round. The odds weren’t in our favour,” he says.
“I kind of am used to winning a lot, so hopefully we can turn that around in Nelson and keep winning. Which I think we could, because I think we’ve got a really good team coming up.”
If he plays for the Leafs, it will be a coup for the team in the middle of an overhaul following last year’s disastrous campaign. The Dynamiters are entering a rebuild next season, which Hunt said he wasn’t interested in sticking around for. The possibility of Hunt playing Junior A, as well as his own interest in returning to Nelson, made the deal possible.
Hunt’s acquisition is also smart marketing by the Leafs, who will capitalize on his name. Dryden Hunt, who was named the WHL’s most valuable player this year after a breakout season, signed an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers in February. Reece, meanwhile, is a promising prospect who will attend a top-40 players under-18 camp later this month.
But despite their success, Sawyer Hunt says his family isn’t hockey obsessed. He doesn’t usually watch regular season NHL games, and though he beams when asked about his talented siblings he doesn’t feel pressure to succeed in hockey.
“I like the game, but I just told myself that my brother is exceptional at hockey and he’d got a gift,” says Hunt. “I’m just like the other guys, like he’s pretty special. You just think about it that way and you be proud of him, play at your highest level, work hard. His route’s pro hockey. I’m going to go to school [and] start my career. It’s been all good.”
Hunt has two years left of playing eligibility in junior hockey, but the 19-year-old isn’t entirely sure if he’ll play past the upcoming season. He’s considering going to school to become a teacher. His mother Carla teaches at Trafalgar, and that path appeals to him.
Or maybe he’ll do something else. Hunt is happy to go where life, and the fish, takes him.
“I like trying new things and I don’t like to set my mind on things,” he says. “I like to stay open and learn about new things and see what I like to do.”