The annual NHL Prospects Tournament will have a distinctive Nelson flair.
A quartet of local hockey enthusiasts are attending the annual event, taking place from September 12 to 16 at the Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, Michigan.
Forward Dryden Hunt will be playing with the Carolina Hurricanes’ prospects while defenceman Isaac MacLeod will take the ice for the Columbus Blue Jackets squad.
Also at the event — behind the bench for the Detroit Red Wings’ prospects squad — is assistant coach Jim Hiller, also of Nelson.
Another coach, the Blue Jackets Brad Larsen is also going to be at the event. Larsen is a former Nelson Leaf and a native of Nakusp.
“It’s going to be kind of cool to have three [other] Nelson guys there. It’s funny how that works out,” said Hunt on Tuesday afternoon.
For the past three seasons, Hunt has been playing for the WHL’s Regina Pats. He finished last year with an impressive 40 points, notching 21 goals and 19 assists in 62 games.
This summer, after being overlooked in the NHL draft, Hunt received a call from the Hurricanes, inviting him to train with the squad’s prospects. He went there in July and enjoyed a successful campaign, considering he faced some stumbling blocks.
“My gear didn’t show up. The airline lost it,” he said.
Despite playing with all new gear, Hunt performed well enough to earn an invite to this week’s tournament.
“They said they liked what they saw so I was happy with my performance.”
He left Wednesday to meet the squad in Michigan.
“My plane ticket says I’m returning on the 18th but that’s subject to change, depending on how I do.”
Once at the tournament, Hunt will test his skills against other young NHL hopefuls. Teams participating in the event include the Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars, New York Rangers as well as the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Red Wings.
“I’m just going to go there and play my game, do what I do best,” said Hunt who described himself as a power forward. “I scored 20 goals last year. That’s not bad. Obviously I’d like to score a few more this year.”
While he has enjoyed his experience with Carolina, Hunt said he will likely be back in Regina this year to play with the Pats.
“Obviously I think sticking in Carolina is a pretty far shot away. I think either way I’ll be playing in Regina this year. But I’m going there to make an impression. There are eight other teams watching as well.”
Hunt played minor hockey in Nelson until his second year of bantam when he made a big move to Notre Dame Hockey College in Saskatchewan. He then returned to the Kootenays during his major-midget years.
Facing Hunt on the ice is Boston College Eagles defenceman Isaac MacLeod who will play with Columbus.
MacLeod is in his fourth year of NCAA play. The talented defenceman grew up in the Nelson Minor Hockey system, played for the Kootenay AAA Midget Ice, the Nelson Junior Leafs as a 16-year-old and then with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL. In 2010, the San Jose Sharks picked MacLeod in the fifth round of the NHL draft.
MacLeod, who could not be reacher for comment, never signed with the Sharks and is now part of the Blue Jackets organization.
Nelson Minor Hockey alumnus Jim Hiller was named an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings earlier this summer.
He returns to the NHL for the first time since the 1993-94 season. He played for the Red Wings briefly and spent most of the last decade coaching in the Western Hockey League.
Hiller, 45, grew up in Nelson where he played minor hockey until the midget level. He moved to Saskatchewan in 1987 to play Junior A. He also played at the college level with Northern Michigan University and was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1989. His NHL career only lasted 63 games, but he found professional success during six seasons in Germany and Italy.
Larsen, a left winger, played in the National Hockey League with the Colorado Avalanche and the Atlanta Thrashers. He is currently assistant coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Before that he was head coach of the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League.