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Sockeyes’ success runs deep, extending to the NHL

By Don Fennell

Published 5:26 PDT, Fri March 26, 2021

In a “normal” season, the Richmond Sockeyes would likely have been in the throes of angling for yet another championship. 

After all, success has long been synonymous with “the fish,” one of Canada’s most accomplished junior hockey clubs ever.

As a member of the B.C. Hockey League (BCHL) in the late 1970s, the Sockeyes reeled off three consecutive league and provincial titles, and three Doyle Cups (a now-retired trophy once awarded to the winner of a series between the B.C. and Alberta playoff champions). In 1987, coached by the Vancouver Canucks’ first captain, they had a season for the ages in which they literally dominated en route to winning the national Centennial Cup.

The team has only seemed to become more consistent since hooking up with the Pacific Junior Hockey League in 1990, netting the league playoff and provincial Cyclone Taylor Cup title in only their second season. In 2003 they sprang up from a fifth-place finish to win their second playoff title and again became provincial champions; a feat they repeated the following season.

Giving ingrained in team psyche

To begin to understand the Sockeyes’ success is to begin to appreciate the philosophy and mindset that is a hallmark of each of those associated with the club. Being a Sockeye extends well beyond just playing hockey. Giving back is ingrained in the team’s culture, and exemplified by the alumni who enthusiastically continue to support the club while generating funds for a scholarship program that has now exceeded more than $250,000 to assist the Sockeyes’ graduating players with their post-secondary studies.

“We feel education is so paramount,” team owner and president Doug Paterson has said. “Anything we can do to help our players get to the next level, or get as much education as possible, is important. In my day (Paterson was the team’s first captain in 1972), there wasn’t a lot of us that went on to post-secondary, but today kids have a greater opportunity. If we can give them a little encouragement that’s great.”

Paterson and his younger brother—current White Rock Whalers owner Ron, who went on to tend goal for Canada at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games—both became successful local businessmen who have never stopped giving back to their communities.

“In life we need to pull together,” added Doug, his words never more poignant that now during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Cups reflective of consistency

In all, the Sockeyes have won six league banners and hoisted the Cyclone Taylor Cup five times. In 2009 and 2013 the team also won the Keystone Cup as

the best in the west. And, under the guidance of another alumni of sorts (former assistant coach Bayne Koen returned to take the head coaching reins), the

club seemed well on its way to more success last fall as well. They kicked off the 2020-21 campaign last fall with a perfect 7-0 record in the adjusted Cohort 1 Division that also featured the Port Moody Panthers and Grandview Steelers.

But after also nearly doubling their opponents in average goals per game, 26-14 during the unbeaten stretch, the season was put on hold when the provincial health office put a halt to all athletic game play during the pandemic. Ultimately, the league was forced in the last few weeks to make the difficult decision and cancel the rest of the schedule. Hoewever, always with an eye to the future, the Sockeyes have continued to practice where possible and to sign players for next season.

One of the most storied and successful franchises in Canadian junior hockey for several decades now, the Sockeyes’ list of its graduates who’ve gone on to play college and pro continues to grow. That list includes those who made it all the way to the NHL.

Heinen latest to reach NHL

Currently, Danton Heinen, a Sockeye during the team’s Keystone and Cyclone Taylor cup season of 2012-13, is a member of the Anaheim Ducks. Drafted by the Boston Bruins 116th overall in the 2014 Entry Draft, he made his NHL debut Oct. 13, 2016 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and scored his first NHL goal Oct. 17 versus the San Jose Sharks.

After his only season as a Sockeye, Heinen captained the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles and played two years at the University of Denver.

A late bloomer, Jason Garrison went on to play for the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.

Originally a defenceman, he was moved up to forward mid-season by then-Sockeyes’ coach Ron Johnson (under whom current Sockeyes coach Koen was tutored) during his first junior season of 2002-03; another of Richmond’s Cyclone Taylor Cup-winning campaigns. He went on to play for the Nanaimo Clippers in the BCHL and collegiately at the University of Minnesota Duluth, turning pro in 2008-09 after signing a free agent contract with the Panthers.

Karl Alzner, who also played for the Sockeyes during the 2002-03 season as a 15-year-old, was selected by the Washington Capitals in the first round, fifth overall, in the 2007 Entry Draft after a stellar junior career with the WHL Calgary Hitmen and selected as the Canadian Hockey League’s top defenceman in 2008.

Scoring his first NHL goal Dec. 6, 2008 versus the Toronto Maple Leafs during a Hockey Night In Canada telecast, he later played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Yet another 15-year-old during the Sockeyes 2002-03 championship season, Kendal McArdle was also a first-round NHL draft pick, selected 20th overall in 2005 by the Florida Panthers. This followed a prolific WHL season in 2004-05 when he tallied 74 points for the Moose Jaw Warriors and was named to Team Canada for the 2007 World Junior Championships; earning a gold medal. He then joined the hometown Vancouver Giants for their successful 2006 Memorial Cup run.

Making his NHL debut Dec. 2, 2008 against the Washington Capitals, McArdle scored his first goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He later played for the Winnipeg Jets before accepting an opportunity to play in Sweden.

Hometown boy makes the show

Hometown boy Raymond Sawada, also a member of that fabled 2002-03 team (along with his twin brother Stephen), suited up for several NHL games with the Dallas Stars, which drafted him out of Cornell University where he played from 2004-08 and was co-captain his senior season. On March 28, 2008 he signed his first pro contract with the Stars and on Feb. 19, 2009 celebrated his 24th birthday by scoring against Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson in his NHL debut. He later played in Japan, Finland and Great Britain.

Perhaps best known as a former colour analyst for the Vancouver Canucks, Dave Tomlinson played 42 NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs (which drafted him 43rd overall in the 1985 draft), Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers. He scored his first and only NHL goal with Winnipeg in 1993-94, and played 10 seasons of pro hockey in Europe before retiring in 2006.

The uncle of current Calgary Flame Milan Lucic, Dan Kesa was drafted 95th overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the hometown Canucks, going on to play 139 games with the Canucks, Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Scoring his first NHL goal with the Canucks in the 1993-94 season, he also played in the Russian Super League and Austrian Hockey League.

Exemplifying how success off the ice runs as deeply as it does on it, Richmond-raised Jordan Oye was elected chair of the Richmond Public Library board enabling him to further demonstrate the leadership qualities he demonstrated as a Sockeye. After playing for his hometown team, Oye went on to earn a double major in business and economics at Fredonia State University in upper New York state (while also shining on the ice) and played a season of pro hockey in Louisiana, scoring 29 points in 46 games for the IceGators, before hanging up the blades.

Player graduated to coach Sockeyes

Now long established as a local attorney, Judd Lambert is another hometown boy who tended net for the Sockeyes and later served as its head coach. Drafted by the NHL New Jersey Devils in 1993, he went on to a successful university career at Colorado College before retiring and returning home to practice law.

Other Sockeyes alumni to play pro, and in the NHL, include Steve Tuttle, Phil Von Stefenelli, Scott King, Doug Morrison, Matt Hervey and Matt Skrlac. But just as notable are the many players who played pro or college hockey elsewhere, and/or who are now giving back in big ways in other ways in their communities. A long list, it includes the likes of Don Taylor, Brad McGowan, Shayne Taker, Graham Sheppard, Mike Heath, Kyzen Loo, Jonah Imoo, Kootenay Alder, Troy Paterson, Rudi and Sean Thorsteinson, Brad Swanson, Jacob and Noah Wozney, Arjun Badh, Payton Lee, Dean Allison, Turner and Carter Popoff, Brayden Low and Wyatt Russell (set to star as the new Captain America) to name but a few.

On the ice or off, the club is proud of its alumni and their efforts and contributions. The team’s long-held mantra “Once a Sockeye, Always a Sockeye” is more than simply words. It’s a philosophy played out daily.

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