Jordan Stallard is one of Brandon’s top bantam players. (FILE PHOTO)
Colt Conrad has been working towards playing in the Western Hockey League for a long time, but now that he’s about to find out which team he’ll land with, he’s taking a low-key approach.
From the tiny town of St. Alphonse, about 115 kilometres southeast of Brandon, Conrad is one of Manitoba’s top prospects for today’s WHL Bantam Draft, for players born in 1997.
"I’m not really thinking too much about (the draft)," Conrad said this week. "I’ll just keep working on the farm and trying to stay in shape."
A skilled centre who helped the Pembina Valley Hawks win the Manitoba title before claiming bronze at the Western Canadian Bantam AAA Hockey Championship in Stony Plain, Alta., Conrad piled up 79 goals and 150 points in 53 games and is projected to be an early pick in the draft, possibly as high as the first round.
Another local player with high hopes is Boissevain’s Meyer Nell and, just like Conrad, he’s keeping his emotions in check.
"I think not being nervous is a big thing," said the centre, who played for the Westman South Bantam AAA Cougars. "It’s one of the things you can’t really do anything about. It’s exciting and you’ve got to just enjoy it, not be scared of it."
Both players believe that Hockey Manitoba’s new rural Bantam AAA programs, where they played with top players from throughout their regions, helped them work their way up draft boards this season.
"It was a big step up from last year and the year before that," Nell said. "It gave us a chance to play with all talented players and I thought it helped my game a lot and I improved throughout the season."
The Brandon A & W Bantam AA Wheat Kings have a number of players who will get consideration today, led by goaltender Tyson Verhelst, centre Jordan Stallard and defenceman James Shearer.
Verhelst led Division 1 of the Winnipeg Bantam AAA Hockey League with a 2.07 goals-against average this season and is considered by many scouts to be Manitoba’s top goalie, while Stallard had 10 goals and 27 assists in 30 games to finish fifth in league scoring.
While Conrad and Nell have been playing it cool this week, Stallard admits to having some butterflies.
"It’s really exciting," Stallard said. "I’m nervous and excited at the same time."
Conrad, Nell and Stallard all plan to go about business as usual today, with Stallard and Nell saying they will go to school, while Conrad will be on a choir trip to Winnipeg. Stallard’s teachers can probably expect him to be a little bit distracted, however.
"I’ll probably be on the computer, hitting the refresh button a lot," he said with a laugh.
Other local draft prospects include Russell forward Rylee Zimmer, who played at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Saskatchewan this season, as well as Virden forward Wyatt Kalynuk and Melita defenceman Cole Oliver. Kalynuk and Oliver both played with Nell on the Cougars.
ONE-TIMERS: The Brandon Wheat Kings hold the 12th overall pick today.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 3, 2012