TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Southwest Cougars goalie Tyson Verhelst drops to stop Brandon Wheat Kings forward Brandon Switzer during a recent Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League game at the Sportsplex.
Tyson Verhelst is getting to be pretty well-travelled in his first season of Midget AAA Hockey with the Southwest Cougars.
In addition to hitting the road for practices and games with the Cougars, the 15-year-old Brandonite has been all the way to Washington State for training camp with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs and heads into Winnipeg regularly for sessions with Chiefs goaltending coach Ryan Cyr. This week, he’s off to Calgary to play for Manitoba at the Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup.
As a highly-regarded WHL prospect, Verhelst, who was drafted by the Chiefs in the third round (58th overall) of this year’s bantam draft, has a lot to juggle this season. But he’s keeping things in perspective by focusing on the work he needs to put in to refine his game.
"I’m just taking one year at a time and looking at next year as a long-term goal," said Verhelst, who opens play with Manitoba at the Challenge Cup on Friday against Saskatchewan. "‘I’m just hoping to get through a good year this year and have a good summer and then hopefully I’ll be able to make the jump (to the WHL)."
Verhelst got a taste of the WHL at the Chiefs camp this fall. He spent an extra week there after camp, practising and joining them to watch a pair of pre-season games. It’s a long way from home, but Verhelst said the welcome he got from the club made him feel better about the idea of playing there down the road.
"When I first got there, we just went and looked at the rink and it was super nice," he said. "The organization out there was really nice, too. They came and introduced themselves and they had everything ready for you. It was really nice."
Verhelst is already adjusting to a new organization and new teammates this season.
Although he played all of his youth hockey in Brandon, Verhelst lives just outside of the city and is actually in the Cougars’ zone for Midget AAA. Rather than trying to transfer to Brandon, he opted to join Southwest this season.
Rebuilding after losing more than half their roster from a team that went to the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League final and hosted the Telus Cup Regionals last season, the Cougars are off to a 6-3-1 start this season. Verhelst has a 2.92 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage, and he believes despite the Cougars’ youth, they’ve got a lot of potential.
"We’re doing pretty good," said Verhelst, who has been joined in Southwest by new head coach Chris Johnston, who was also his bench boss last year with the Brandon Bantam AA Wheat Kings. "We’re just a young team, so we’re starting to come together more and more as the season goes on. I think once we come together, we’ll be a good strong team."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 1, 2012