WHL NOTEBOOK: Lane grows in second season


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Never underestimate the impact a little confidence can have. Just ask Spokane Chiefs forward Grady Lane.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/04/2022 (233 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Never underestimate the impact a little confidence can have. Just ask Spokane Chiefs forward Grady Lane.

The six-foot-one, 191-pound forward from Virden, who turned 19 in late March, made a one-game Western Hockey League debut in the 2019-20 season at age 16 before being sent back to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winkler Flyers.

Now in his second full-time WHL season with Spokane, Lane said he’s a completely different player.

Larry Brunt/Spokane Chiefs Spokane Chiefs forward Grady Lane of Virden, shown handling the puck this season, had an unusual celebration when he scored his first Western Hockey League goal.

“I think it’s being more comfortable,” Lane said. “When I look back at my first game in the league, it was in Kamloops when I was 16. It seemed like the puck was a grenade for me out there. I didn’t really make any plays: It was kind of get it on the stick and get it off the stick.

“Now I feel like if I have the puck, I have the confidence that I’m going to make play. I’m not just firing it off the stick and playing like there’s eggs in my pants. Confidence is the biggest thing.”

In 20 games in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season in Spokane, Lane had a pair of assists and 31 penalty minutes.

He’s played in 42 games this season and delivered two goals, seven assists and 79 penalty minutes.

“Last year wasn’t a normal year but it was good to get my feet in the water in this league,” Lane said. “I found it helped in the summer being able to skate and work out normally because last year I didn’t get to do any of that. Expectations for myself were definitely higher.”

He had an interesting summer.

After finishing a two-week quarantine at the family cabin following the season, he worked for a month in the oil field, and with restrictions potentially limiting his ability to skate with Dave Lewis and Craig Anderson in Brandon, he moved to Saskatoon for July. Before he headed back to Spokane, he returned home for a while to skate in the Wheat City.

One thing that provided some continuity for him was that he had the same Chiefs billets as last year. He actually returned to Spokane two weeks before camp to spend time with them, and came away with an incredible story.

“The first week, I went fishing with my billet dad in Oregon and I caught a 10-foot sturgeon, one of the biggest he’s seen,” Lane said. “It was the first time I had ever been fishing like that so I guess I got lucky.”

During the second week, he skated with teammates in Post Falls, Idaho, and were joined by National Hockey Leaguers and former Chiefs Kailer Yamamoto and Derek Ryan.

While Lane may have changed, his role hasn’t just yet. He’s patiently biding his time.

“I’m a bottom-six energy guy playing a heavy 200-foot game,” Lane said. “I feel like I can play anywhere throughout the lineup and you know what you’re getting. I did get more opportunity this season than I did last year.”

While he got into 20 games a year ago, he considers this his rookie season because he’s finally getting the full WHL experience of travel into the B.C. Division and a busy 68-game schedule.

He said it is a grind.

“We didn’t have any weekday games,” Lane said of the 2020-21 season. “We practised Monday to Thursday and then played you two games on the weekend. This year we have games every weekend and throughout the week. It’s a full-time job. The days you’re not playing, you’re practising and working out and trying to get better.”

Naturally, the hard-working teenager couldn’t resist finding a little more to keep himself busy.

Lane graduated from high school last spring but made the reasonably rare decision to start taking university courses, with the expenses paid by the team. So far, he’s taken personal finance and an investing classes through Athabaska University. Since everything is online, he takes his computer on road trips and is able to keep up.

“When I was younger guy, I talked to guys who went back to school and they would say ‘Oh, this is so hard, I wish I took classes,’” Lane said. “When I do end up going to school and getting an education, I’m ahead of it for one in getting some classes and credits out of the way, and I’m still fresh with how school is and not sitting here for the next three years not doing anything.”

On the ice, Lane, who was the Chiefs eight-round pick, 156th overall in the 2018 WHL draft, has certainly weathered some ups and downs.

He scored his first WHL goal on Oct. 19, and you’ll work hard to find a more unique celebration. The Chiefs were trailing 3-0 when Michael Cicek took a shot from the slot. Lane tried to get his stick on the rebound but missed, and actually knocked the puck back toward goalie Scott Ratzlaff, which turned out to be the correct play.

As the netminder lunged back to corral the puck, Ratzlaff mistakenly knocked it into the net. In the meantime, Lane had been enthusiastically escorted out of the crease by a Seattle defenceman and was falling onto his back.

When the puck went in, he was pumping his arms while lying on the ice as his teammates mobbed him.

“It was a weekday game in Seattle, and it’s never fun in Seattle with the fans,” Lane said. “They’re a big, heavy team and you know it’s going to be a long night. It was a low-to-high play and the D shot it and I was net front, where I’m going to score goals.

Courtesy of Spokane Chiefs Grady Lane

“I saw the puck and batted at it and I think I actually batted it the other way but it ended up hitting someone and going the other way. It was a big relief finally getting it out of the way.”

The goal came in his 27th-career game, and he followed it with another four nights later in the next game, and added an assist for his first two-point game. But just as he was getting going offensively, disaster struck in a rematch with Seattle on Oct. 29.

“It was just a normal play down low and the puck came to me,” Lane said. “Six-foot-nine forward Matt Rempe just pinned me against the wall and my left shoulder went in first. It wasn’t a dirty play, it was just a normal play. He’s doing his job as a centreman.

“It felt normal and then when I moved back from the boards, it felt like my whole left shoulder had dropped to the ground. That happened, and I knew it wasn’t good.”

Lane sustained a Grade 3 separation and other damage in his left shoulder. He stayed in Spokane instead of returning home to Virden to recuperate, deciding he wanted to be around his teammates, even if he couldn’t play.

He admitted the forced absence was hard to take.

“At the start of the year I was producing offensively, I had a really good start, I felt good coming into camp,” Lane said. “I was in good shape. For that to happen, there probably wasn’t a worse time. It was really hard not being on the ice with the guys.”

Lane was finally ready to return after Christmas, playing in his first game since the injury on Jan. 14 against the Everett Silvertips. Naturally, it took some time for him to regain confidence in the shoulder.

“It’s in your head, right?” Lane said. “You don’t know if you’ve come back too soon or what it’s going to be like. It took a couple games and maybe I was a bit passive with it, playing and worrying that something was going to happen again because separations, for whatever reason, can happen again.

“It took a while even to get back to game speed. It was like I was starting another season.”

He estimates it took him 10 games to feel like normal again. In an odd way, getting hit a lot after he returned was actually the best thing for him.

While he didn’t go home to recuperate, home has come to him this season.

His parents Craig and Stacey have been out to see him three times and also on a recent trip through British Columbia. His younger sister Holly also visited.

It gave them a chance to see what he’s experienced: The American crowds are a lot of fun.

“It’s crazy,” Lane said. “We have a big rink, I think it holds about 12,000 and we have unreal attendance and the greatest fans. There is a difference when we play in the U.S., even in other visiting rinks, how loud it is compared to when we go to B.C. They just love it down here.”

Lane describes the Chiefs as a team that outworks opponents on a nightly basis, and has tremendous skill at the top of the lineup. They needed it on Saturday when they headed to Victoria to meet the Royals with a playoff spot on the line. The Chiefs struck first in the opening frame, and after Victoria tied it 50 seconds later, scored the next three goals en route to a 4-2 victory.

“It was a do-or-die on Saturday in Victoria, so that was probably the most nerve-racking game I’ve been a part of,” Lane said. “Either you win and you get to play in the playoffs or you lose and you go home. It’s been our goal since Day 1 to make playoffs and we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs as a group. To finally say we’re going to do this, there was no feeling like it.”

The win tied them with the Vancouver Giants (29-34-5-0) and Prince George Cougars (29-34-4-1) at 53 points, and with the WHL tie-breakers, Spokane (29-34-4-1) actually finished in sixth place.

That gives the Chiefs the opportunity to meet the B.C. Division-leading Kamloops Blazers in the Western Conference quarterfinals.

“Kamloops is a really good team,” Lane said. “They’re fast, they have guys like (Logan) Stankoven who is over 100 points (104), and (Luke) Toporowksi, who we traded to Kamloops and know well. They are the top team out of their division and they beat us in the series 2-1 but last game we came out on top so we’re hoping we can continue that trend.”

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