|Defenceman Tyler Hansen (2) of the Kamloops Blazers is facing what is|
a life-altering decision.
(Hugo Yuen / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
These are gut-wrenching times for Tyler Hansen, a defenceman who is nearing the end of his fourth season with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers.
Hansen, 19, has one year of junior hockey eligibility remaining but hasn’t yet decided whether he will use it.
As a practising member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he has known all his life that he will be go on a two-year mission around the time of his 20th birthday.
“My church is very important to me. My faith and my religion . . . it’s something that I have very close to my heart,” Hansen, who turns 20 on March 17, said prior to his club’s 5-3 loss at the hands of the Vancouver Giants (17-45-2) at Interior Savings Centre on Wednesday night.
The Blazers (41-18-5) had beaten the host Giants 6-0 on Friday — Kamloops won the first six games of the season series — and looked to be headed in that direction again. After one period, the Blazers held a 19-8 edge in shots and a 1-0 lead, thanks to a Brendan Ranford pass that went in off one of Joel Edmundson’s skates on an early power play.
However, the tide turned in the second period as the Blazers, appearing frustrated with the lack of offensive success, ditched the game plan — get the puck in deep and work over the Vancouver defence with a cycle game — in favour of more individual play. Judging from head coach Guy Charron’s demeanour at the bench, he wasn’t pleased.
The Giants got goals from Dalton Sward and Cain Franson, allowing them to take a 2-1 lead into the third period.
Charron juggled his lines prior to the third, a move that included the reuniting of JC Lipon with Colin Smith and Tim Bozon. And the Blazers pulled even when Chase Souto scored at 2:04.
But the Blazers didn’t draw much energy from that and the Giants got the game’s next two goals, from Brendan Rouse and Travis McEvoy, to regain control.
The Giants, who got a 34-save effort from goaltender Jared Rathjen got a late goal from Rouse, while Lipon had the Blazers’ other goal.
And through it all Hansen played his usual strong-armed, shot-blocking game. But, he said, his future really is up in the air.
“I’m not exactly sure of my plans yet,” he said. “I’ve been here for four years and I can go at the age of 19. . . . so I’m thinking I will probably go in the next year or two.
“I absolutely have plans to go on a mission.
Hansen is from Magrath, Alta., a community of 2,200 people located about 30 kilometres south of Lethbridge. Magrath was established in 1899 by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who relocated from Idaho and Utah.
The Blazers have eight regular-season games remaining and, of course, are hoping for a deep playoff run. In all probability, Hansen will wait for it all to end before making a decision.
“Hockey has been good and I have really enjoyed it,” he said. “I’m still hoping something will open up, one of the doors, whether it’s a contract. . . . If things don’t go the way I want them to, I could see myself going on a mission anywhere from after this season to next year.”
This is not unfamiliar territory for the Blazers. Nathan Grochmal, a forward from Yorba Linda, Calif., played two seasons for them before going on an LDS mission to South Africa following 2004-05, which was his 19-year-old season.
Before being assigned a mission by the church, a young person must fill out the proper papers, something Hansen has yet to do. Those papers include questions that indicate personal interests and help those responsible make assignments.
“Part of it for me is that a lot of my friends are going, a lot of my lifestyle is changing that way,” Hansen stated. “It isn’t a reason to go because your friends are going, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. For the last year I’ve been pretty anxious, wanting to get ready for it.
“If I was to go, I would see what happens. If I really missed hockey while I was out there, I would keep the option of coming back and playing CIS.”
Russell Maxwell, a forward with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, is perhaps Hansen’s best friend. Maxwell’s older brother, Mitch, is in West Virginia on a mission, but is to return to Alberta in August and has said he will play hockey next season with the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
“If I was to go this summer or next summer,” Hansen emphasized, “I wouldn’t just be giving up my hockey career. I would be going and seeing from there whether I want to play hockey again after or just move on with my life and go to school.”
Getting to that point, however, is proving to be a sleep-depriving experience.
“It’s hard,” Hansen said. “There’s been a lot of nights when I’ve been on the phone with my parents or Skype, or thinking myself.
“I’m just trying to make the best decision for myself. Obviously, I’m trying to take the team into consideration and what’s best for the team, but ultimately I have to look at myself and what’s best for me and my life.”
If that means, he doesn’t come back for a final season in the WHL, so be it.
“I think it’s a possibility,” he said. “I haven’t finalized anything . . . but it’s an option. I’m leaving every door open. After this season . . . if I feel that it’s my time to be done and go on my mission, I think I will do that.”
With the loss, the Blazers remain five points behind the B.C. Division-leading Kelowna Rockets, who will use up their game in hand tonight when they play host to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
The Blazers and Rockets will meet each other three times next week, starting Sunday night at ISC.
JUST NOTES: The attendance was 4,172. . . . Kamloops G Taran Kozun, making his first appearance since Jan. 29, stopped 33 shots. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Rouse: Two goals, leadership; 2. Rathjen: Kept his guys in it; 3. Franson: Quality player. . . . Vancouver D Reid Zalitach left in the first period with an injury to his right leg. By the third period, he was on crutches and watching from the press box. . . . The Blazers meet the Cougars in Prince George on Friday, then return home to face the Giants on Saturday. . . . Former Blazers radio voice Jeff Paterson was in the house, calling the play for the Giants’ broadcast. . . . Kamloops F Aspen Sterzer (concussion), who hasn’t played since Dec. 29, remains at home in Calgary. Charron isn’t hopeful that Sterzer will be back for the start of the playoffs.
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