Forward Jesse Gabrielle, whose Minnesota high school season is over, takes a break during his first practice with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings on Tuesday at Westman Place. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Ever since turning heads in the Brandon Wheat Kings’ training camp last fall, Jesse Gabrielle has insisted that he wanted to play for the Western Hockey League club one day.
It appears that day has arrived, as the blue-chip prospect showed up in practice with the Wheat Kings on Tuesday — less than a week after his high school team was eliminated from the Minnesota playoffs — with plans to stay here for the rest of the season.
"I had a good season with my team up in Minnesota, but my dream is to be here in Brandon," said the 15-year-old forward, who already packs 195 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame. "So the quicker I could get here is just a quicker step to the transition to the ‘Dub’ and it’s all I want right now."
Gabrielle was raised in Moosomin, Sask., but a few years ago moved to Minnesota, which is traditionally more of a hotspot for NCAA recruiting than for WHL prospects. He fell to the fifth round of the WHL Bantam Draft where the Wheat Kings snagged him with the 100th pick, then followed up an impressive camp in Brandon by emerging as one of the top freshmen in Minnesota high school hockey. Gabrielle posted 15 goals and 47 points, helping the Eagan Wildcats to a 23-4-1 season that ended only one victory short of an appearance in the state championship tournament.
With two weeks left in the regular season and no playoffs in the cards for the Wheat Kings, who sit last in the Eastern Conference with a 22-38-4-3 record, no timetable has been announced for when and if Gabrielle will make his debut. He could be in the lineup as soon as this weekend, with the team hosting the Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday and the Swift Current Broncos on Saturday, but Gabrielle said for now he’s intent on soaking up all he can.
"Even just getting to practise and see what the lifestyle is here is just a great honour to have them even consider (having) me come up here and be a part of the team," he said. "If I can get in a game or two that’s even better, but I just want to take in everything I can here for next year."
One practice into his WHL tenure, Gabrielle said he liked what he saw on the ice.
"I expected it to be real fast and they didn’t disappoint — real high tempo, you’re going, you’re going, you’re going," Gabrielle said.
"You don’t have a lot of time to get water, a lot of breaks in between (drills) but that’s what I like and if that’s what it takes to get to the next level, that’s what I’m going to do."
Gabrielle is also eager to get to know his new teammates better. He has exchanged Twitter and text messages with some of them during the season but said there’s no substitute for the day-to-day bonding of a team.
"Eagan really taught me what a family’s like in hockey, so if I can be there for one year and feel like a family, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like being here for four years, hopefully," he said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 6, 2013