Published on August 31, 2013
Tim Vanstone (in yellow) moves the puck through and around a couple of opposing players during the first scrimmage of Prince Albert Raiders camp on Friday evening. He's looking for big things in his 17-year-old system.
Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Published on August 31, 2013
Reid Gardiner puts on the brakes as he skates back into his own end during the first scrimmage of Prince Albert Raiders camp on Friday evening. He's excited about the prospects of his NHL draft season.
Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Last year they were friends, classmates and even occasional linemates as their seasons took different paths.
This year they both want a whole lot more.
Reid Gardiner and Tim Vanstone were the two 16-year-old rookies on the Prince Albert Raiders last season.
Neither can wait for their second run through the Western Hockey League as they enter their NHL draft year.
"It's always going to be in the back of my mind but I really want to improve on last year," Gardiner says. "I think my potential is a little bit better. I want more responsibility. My goal since I was five years old was to play in the NHL. That's always been one of my dreams, to be an NHL draft pick."
For Vanstone, it's about making an impression after an up and down rookie season.
"I really pride myself on working," Vanstone says. "I think that's one of my main tools. I'm not the most skilled player but I can do my job and my work ethic really got me to where I wanted to be in my 16-year-old season. I was really proud of that. Even though I wasn't playing the big minutes I wanted, I was getting better in practices. Now I can see that coming over to my 17-year-old season that I'm a lot better."
Gardiner, a 5'10", 170-pound Humboldt product, played 54 games last season, scoring seven goals, adding 13 assists and drawing 28 penalty minutes.
He also joined Team Saskatchewan at the Canadian Western U17 championship, scoring twice and adding an assist in five games.
Vanstone, meanwhile, is a 6'0", 190-pound Swift Current product who played in 39 games, drawing a pair of assists and 36 penalty minutes. He drew an assist in five games at the Canadian Western U17 championship.
As Gardiner's responsibilities grew, Vanstone sometimes found himself watching from the stands as a healthy scratch.
But with a new season comes fresh hope for what lies ahead for Vanstone.
"I want to be a surprise," he says. "I want to be the surprise going into the season who nobody really expects them to do what he's going to do. I want to be that guy who people come to the rink to see. I want to be that electric player, that power forward with intensity. I'm not going to pick 17 goals or 33 points or 100 penalty minutes. I just want to go game by game in a process -- I've been talking with (Cory) Clouston a lot about the process -- to where I want to be and then the goals and assists are going to come."
Gardiner likes what he sees from his friend.
"He's an energy guy, he's a character guy, he's a guy you want on the ice with you," Gardiner says. "He was one of my best buddies last year because we were the two 16-year-olds and we had lots of classes in school together. He's a hard-nosed guy, a pretty thick guy, he has a good shot, he hits hard. When we needed a boost last year we sent him out and he got the job done."
Vanstone admires what Gardiner brings to the rink as well.
"Reid is a hard working, skilled player who has great hockey sense, probably one of the best that I've seen in a 17- and 16-year-old," Vanstone says. "He knows where to be on the ice, you can see it's his natural talent. He can pick apart an opponent, he can pickpocket people, he's just a great hard-working power forward like myself. He has more skill but I think we have the same work ethic. The two of us will be good leaders and hopefully we can get this team where it wants to be."
Both faced injury problems last year.
Vanstone had a concussion after a fight on Feb. 2 in Prince Albert while Gardiner broke a wrist early in the season.
It further complicated what both players say is a daunting transition into the WHL.
"Coming into the league, it's a tough transition," Gardiner says. "You're playing against guys who have proved themselves at the world junior level and the NHL level. It's tough to compete. The speed and the reaction time are definitely very quick, a lot faster than what I was used to in midget. The guys are obviously a lot bigger. I think overall the atmosphere is more professional."
Other transitions included becoming accustomed to balancing their new, nearly full-time jobs as WHL players with their responsibilities as high school students. Both took three classes at Carlton Comprehensive High School and learned to do what they could between two-a-day practices and games on the road.
"It was a tough couple of months at the start of the season but you just get better, you just have to sacrifice," Vanstone says.
Both teens came in highly touted.
Gardiner was the eight overall pick in the 2011 bantam draft, while Vanstone went 52nd overall in the third round. (A pick later they took Rylan Parenteau, who is competing for a job as backup goalie for the Raiders this season.)
"At times I was little overwhelmed during my season but overall I thought it was a very good learning experience, to learn from some older guys and to watch some guys go through the draft process, it was pretty special," Gardiner says. "Overall, I thought Tim and I had a pretty successful 16-year-old years."
Vanstone admits that the change in his role was tough at times. After being nearly a point a game player and a team leader in AAA midget with the Swift Current Legionnaires, he was relegated to the press box many nights in Prince Albert.
"It was a learning experience," he says. "It was up and down for the most part. You never want to be a spectator in this sport and being up in the stands isn't really the funnest thing to do as a 16-year-old. But I thought that I learned a lot. I attained broad shoulders, I guess I can say. I put up with a lot, not playing a lot, playing low minutes, not scoring a lot. When you go from midget AAA being a scorer and being that guy to watching the guys like Mark (McNeill) take their place ... after that season I was very proud of myself."
Both were stunned at the speed and ability of the players around them. It led to lots of moments where they couldn't believe what they were seeing.
"The speed and skill of Morgan Rielly was pretty phenomenal," Gardiner says. "He'd be the first guy up the ice on a four-on-four and then the first guy back in his own end on a d-zone recovery. Lots of things really wowed me in my first year."
Vanstone notes that the difference between playing with guys within a year of your age in minor hockey and playing with men as many as five years older in the WHL can be daunting.
"You're playing in the age limits in bantam and midget and now you're playing guys who are five years apart (from you) sometimes," Vanstone says. "It was a learning experience. I think that all that knowledge that I gained from last year is going to help me this year."
Ultimately, the two buddies hope that lessons learned in year one will pay big dividends in year two.
"I thought I got better and better as the games progressed. I think overall that I got used to the speed and skill," Gardiner says. "They tell you that in this league it's not easy. I thought I had lots of down moments and lots of things I kind of looked back on where I thought I should have done this better or done this. But I thought that I steadily improved over the season.
"Hopefully it carries over."