Ryan Stone has a little favour to ask of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The four-year Brandon star needs them to trade Tyler Coulter to the Calgary Hitmen, because after all, a favour given is a favour waiting to be returned.
Coulter and his parents Dale and Chris billeted Stone in his four-year Western Hockey League career that spanned from 2001 to 2005. Now 31, and five years retired from hockey, Stone is thrilled that Tyler is a Wheat King.
"Totally!" he said. "It’s almost full circle but the only thing missing in the circle is if he gets traded to Calgary now and moves in and I billet him. I don’t know if that’s ever happened in the history of the Dub or any league, having a billet kid grow up and play for the same team that you played for."
The irony is that Coulter could very easily have been a Hitmen player after attending rookie camp in Calgary as a 15-year-old before Brandon listed him.
Stone’s route to Brandon came after a rare down year for the franchise.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, the Wheat Kings drafted Eric Fehr with the fifth pick of the ensuing 2000 WHL bantam draft, with Stone going a round later with the 23rd pick.
The two will always be linked together to longtime fans.
"It’s funny because we probably only played together half our games together on the same line," Stone said. "We were always kind of split up for half of them and on the power play we would always be out on the same unit."
Stone compiled 78 goals and 162 assists in 239 regular-season games, adding 538 penalty minutes.
He was quickly a fan favourite as a 16-year-old in 2001-02, scoring 11 goals, adding 27 assists and earning 128 penalty minutes.
He said that first season was a blur.
"You’re busy; everything’s changing and everything’s different," Stone said. "I think I just went with it. I adapted on the fly and tried to keep my grades up, tried to play well in hockey, met new people, met new teammates, it was a whirlwind. The organization and Kelly McCrimmon made the transition as easy as possible."
He especially appreciated the focus on education.
"Even if we played in P.A., that night, we were in school the day of and the day after," Stone said. "I think that speaks a lot because schooling is more important than hockey unless you’re going and making millions of dollars. You’re going to have a career after hockey even if you do make the millions. You still need your grades and still need your education."
In his 17-year-old season, he was named to the CHL Top Prospects Game and taken 32nd overall in the 2003 NHL draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In his final season in the WHL, 2004-05, he finished second in the league in scoring with 99 points, behind only his teammate Fehr and his 111 points. Stone led the WHL with his 66 assists and was named to the WHL East first all-star team as the team made it all the to the league final, falling in five games to the Kelowna Rockets.
If there’s a remarkable statistic that stands out in Stone’s career, it’s the fact that he played an amazing 66 playoff games, essentially an extra WHL season.
"We always had good teams from when I got there at 16 to when I left at 19," Stone said. "We had good playoff teams and it seemed like when he did get into the playoffs, we always went six or seven games (per series). I don’t know if that makes us a good team or not but we always found a way to win. Obviously it’s too bad that we couldn’t win our last game of the season like they did last year but I think it says if you’re getting into the playoffs and making deep runs every year and it says a lot about the team and the organization."
Stone said his most outstanding playoff memories are going three rounds in his rookie season and the trip to the final in his last season.
He was last in a city he calls "his second home almost" in the spring of 2009 after his American Hockey League season ended and he was driving home.
Stone turned pro in his 20-year-old season, making his NHL debut with the Penguins against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 10, 2008. He played eight games over four seasons in the Pittsburgh organization before being dealt to the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 17, 2009.
He played his final 27 NHL games in the 2009-10 season with the Oilers, earning seven assists in 35 games. He played 309 games in the American Hockey League.
He remains disappointed with how it all worked out.
"I don’t think that anyone would say that they are (satisfied) unless they played 1,000 games in The Show and have a bunch of goals and everything," Stone said. "I played a lot more minor-league games than I wanted. I wanted to play more NHL games but that’s just the way it went."
Stone had knee problems prior to arriving in Brandon, but aggravated them as a Wheat King and later with the Oilers, an NHL injury that cost him 13 months.
He played one final season in Europe in an effort to rekindle his passion for the game, but it ended up speeding up his departure.
"The ultimate kicker is that I went over to Europe to find my love for hockey again and blew my shoulder out," Stone said. "I kind of said enough is enough. I want to be able to hang out with my kids when I get older and all that stuff. That was the ultimate reason why."
Within the next three to six months, he’s getting a knee fixed, with surgery on the other planned in about a year.
Life has moved on for Stone.
He met his future wife Jenna in Grade 7, and they started dating in Grade 9.
They settled in Calgary, but when they received news they were having a third child moved to a larger home in Airdrie, Alta. Jett is six, Harper, 4, and Scarlett, 1.
Stone has stayed closest with Fehr and rugged defenceman Jonathan Webb, who he is a part owner with in a Calgary oil and gas company where he works as a business development manager. He also has a hockey skill development company called Precise Hockey with former pro players Jeff Shantz and Steve Parsons.
"It’s exciting to kids walk out of the rink excited about playing hockey," he said. "I think that’s the most important thing."
While Stone said his first thoughts of Brandon will always be of the Coulters, he cherishes his time as a Wheat King. But he laughs that one more cheap assist in 70 games in the 2004-05 season would have been nice.
"I look back at it now and obviously you always want to do more but we were pretty successful," Stone said. "One thing I wish that was different was my 99-point season I should have chiselled an assist somewhere along the way and got to 100 (points). The whole experience was awesome. It was four years living away from home, coming home in the summer and seeing your friends again and leaving and living with another family.
"It was just fantastic."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson