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This article was published 25/1/2021 (241 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A lot of athletes have managed to stay motivated during the pandemic, but Brandon’s Trent Miner has literally soared above them.
The 19-year-old Vancouver Giants goaltender has used the 10-month break from Western Hockey League play to earn his pilot’s licence.
"I always wanted to do this, but obviously didn’t have any time to get into it until this summer," Miner said.
He began taking lessons in May at the Brandon Flight Centre, which involves either online or in-person ground school. Each time a pupil masters a new skill in the course, they go up in the air with an instructor.
"They show you it’s not actually as intimidating as people think it is," Miner said.
Students earn licences along the way, with Miner’s flight test coming about a month ago. He passed that and is now studying for his written exam. When he completes that, he will be a full private pilot.
Miner has about 20 hours of solo flying under his belt, an impressive feat for someone who was terrified by the thought of it when he was a youngster.
When he was growing up in Souris, the father of one of his friends had a plane and he took Miner up in the air.
"I just realized how fun it is and how cool of an experience it was," Miner said. "I think it was later that summer we had a hockey tournament in Chicago and we flew from Minot to Chicago and it was just the best experience of my life. Ever since then, I’ve been intrigued with it and I was just lucky enough to do it this summer."
The school owns three planes and his normal flights were an hour to 90 minutes. During his training, he was up in the air three times a week for two or three hours each time. The course workload also filled his days when he wasn’t working out.
"It was always something to look forward to and I was continuously working on," Miner said.
Long term, flying could turn out to be more than a hobby. After his time in hockey ends, it could prove to be an excellent career.
"I think if hockey doesn’t turn out, I don’t know if I would fully turn it into a career or what I would do with it yet," Miner said. "It’s definitely a path that would be interesting and if things led to it, I would go for it but just to have the opportunity to be able to rent a plane and go up on my own or go anywhere on a plane one day is absolutely exciting."
For now, however, his feet are very much on the ice.
Miner, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2019 National Hockey League draft, signed an amateur tryout agreement on Jan. 16 with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Colorado Eagles.
One of the familiar faces there will be Brandon Wheat Kings sniper Luka Burzan, who also signed a contract with the Eagles on Jan. 16. Another is former Wheat Kings star Ty Lewis of Brandon.
Miner said although the WHL has promised to play a 24-game season, it’s nice to have something a little more concrete for now.
"To have something pop up that I can get into right now and start playing hockey is pretty exciting," Miner said.
He headed down to Loveland, Colo., on Jan. 18, and after a three-day quarantine in a hotel, Eagles camp started on Monday.
Miner, who spoke on the weekend, said it would be nice to get back into action after Manitoba’s move to code red closed rinks in November.
"The last two months have been outdoor rinks and pond hockey so it will definitely be nice to skate again," Miner said. "I think just to have a schedule and something to look forward to every day is going to be exciting for me as well."
The AHL season is scheduled to begin on Feb. 5. Since he’s still 19, he has to be returned to the Giants once the WHL season begins because the current agreement with the NHL doesn’t allow players under age 20 to play minor pro.
Miner said getting drafted in 2019 was nice but it can’t affect anything he does.
"Obviously it’s something that you take pride in and understand that you earned it," Miner said. "At the same time, you can’t let it change you. You’re trying to chase getting signed or making the team, not just putting on a show for them. You have to play your game and doing what works for you. That’s why you got selected.
"… Until you’re on the team, it doesn’t mean anything."
After a slow start last season, the Giants won 11 games in a row in January and February and were in third place with a record of 32-24-4-2, two points back of the second-place Victoria Royals.
On March 12, however, the WHL first postponed its season due to the pandemic and then cancelled it on March 18. On March 23, the playoffs were cancelled too.
"Everything was looking good for us and we were getting prepared for playoffs and mentally getting focused for it and making plans," Miner said. "For it to get cancelled like that … initially they called it postponed so we went back to our billets’ houses and were still trying to prepare for the season still to happen with workouts and Zoom calls, so to hear the season got cancelled was heartbreaking.
"It just felt wrong that you didn’t finish what you started, especially for the older guys. For them to be done not knowing that was their last shift in the Western Hockey League was a pretty crazy feeling."
After he returned to Brandon, Miner trained at Frederickson Performance Centre. When that was closed due to the pandemic, he worked on things like his mental training, breathing, and hand-eye co-ordination. On the latter front, he taught himself to juggle.
"I found there wasn’t any time when I was not working on some part of my game to get better," Miner said.
He also took it outdoors. His family built a rink in their backyard and he skated on that often. He also went to the community centres in his goal equipment a handful of times.
As well, Miner volunteered his time with the under-15 AA Wheat Kings, coaching their young netminders.
"I’ve always thought that lots of goalies aren’t given a fair opportunity that you would be if you were in a bigger market such as Winnipeg," Miner said. "To give younger goalies the opportunity to learn things — I know I always looked up to the older goalies when I was younger — is great. To see them grow and get better and listen to what I’m saying and adapt to their own styles, it’s cool to see but also I learned things too."
When the WHL decided its players could join Junior A teams, Miner was set to join the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Dauphin Kings. He drove to Dauphin on Nov. 4, the day after a game had been cancelled against the OCN Blizzard, and got some practices in before the league paused its season on Nov. 12.
When the WHL resumes. it will be a new challenge for Miner after the graduation of his close friend David Tendeck, who has been Vancouver’s starter for the past three years.
In three seasons with the Giants, who took him with the 20th overall pick in the 2016 draft, Miner has appeared in 69 games, compiling a 2.56 goals against average and .909 save percentage in the regular season, with a record of 41-20-3-2 record.
He said he and his Giants teammates have kept in close contact during the long layoff.
"We’ve done Zoom calls and team builders, so that’s helped a lot, especially with lots of new guys," Miner said. "We’re not going to be a different group but there will be new faces in the room this year."
Miner looks at his forced absence from the game philosophically. He’s never had this much time away since he started playing the game.
"There were definitely days when you didn’t feel motivated and you weren’t sure what was going to happen," Miner said. "As dates kept getting pushed back, you were just sick of it and just wanted to go play. Even in the heart of the summer at six of seven months, you had been skating so long you just wanted to play and get back into a routine."
He said he missed his time in Vancouver with his billet family and billet brother but forced himself to keep doing the things that would make him better.
"There is a bigger picture knowing that one day COVID is going to come to an end," Miner said. "You didn’t want to be the person who wasn’t ready and was going to let your team down. That was the motivation you used all summer."
While Miner’s last flight was down to Colorado with someone else at the controls, hockey and flying have become intertwined for him. He said the lessons he’s learned in the air and on the ice and apply both ways.
"Not every day is going to be your best one," Miner said. "You’re not always going to win 1-0 or have a fluid game. There are going to be times you squeak out a 6-5 win, which is the same as flying. Sometimes you’re going to land and you’re going to wonder if the wheels are still on the plane because you hit it so hard.
"At the end of the day, you landed and you survived to play another game or take another flight."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson