At 13 years of age, Brandon Fushimi recalls having a message for his mother, Catherine.
I told her I wanted to play up in the WHL [Western Hockey League], Fushimi, a native of Thornton, Colorado, said. She kept telling me, No, youre not going to play there.
I finally got her to say, Its your choice if you want to play there. I want really badly to play here, Fushimi, now 16, said after his first session in the Victoria Royals main training camp, which opened Monday morning at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Skating on Team Manning (Team White), the young American certainly didnt look out of place, scoring on a penalty shot and, in fact, drawing three of them (shots are awarded on penalty calls).
An undrafted bantam, Fushimi was invited to Royals camp last season, survived the rookie sessions and took in the main camp. It was then that the major junior team listed him on its protected list before he returned to play for the Rocky Mountain Roughriders, a midget triple-A team in Colorado that is coached by John Paris Jr., who scouts for the Royals.
The six-foot, 173-pound winger continues to draw rave reviews in a camp where youth is obviously being served, with fellow 16-year-olds Joe Hicketts, Jack Walker and Ryan Gagnon (all defencemen) also attracting attention.
The question is, how many 16-year-olds can the Royals afford to keep? They held three last year in Luke Harrison, Taylor Crunk and Keegan Kanzig.
Generally speaking, the 16-year-olds who have come into camp have done a good job so far. This first go this morning showed there are a couple of guys who are going to push people for spots, said Royals director of player personnel Grant Armstrong.
As for Fushimi:
Hes come in a lot stronger than he was a year ago and I think hes starting to get his feet under him. With strength comes confidence. Early on, I think he had a good go. Unfortunately, on a couple of those breakaways, he put the same move on it, but thats just a lack of experience.
Fushimi deked to his backhand on all three penalty shots, burying the first on Coleman Vollrath before reliever Zac Klassen started reading his book.
I was just trying to pick off the defencemen, trying to get a break, got hooked up a couple of times, but I could only bury one, not all three, said Fushimi. I thought it was going to work again, but after the second one they caught on.
Still, it was an impressive morning for him.
I thought it was pretty good. I was a little nervous being out there with all the vets, he admitted. I just have to keep up with them; put something in the net; hit; back check.
And he was noticed.
Theyve done a good job of finding players and finding young, skilled players, Royals head coach Dave Lowry said of the scouts.
My philosophy is we take the best players. If these young guys want the opportunity to start the year here, then theyll get that opportunity. Age to me is just a number. Were looking at skill and looking at guys who can step in and play in the league, Lowry added. If they are young, we have to make sure they are in a position to be successful as well.
As for Fushimi, Lowry liked what he saw, yet again.
He played hard and for him, hes carried over right from rookie camp. Hes a guy who wants to play and every day he seems to be getting better, said Lowry. He seems to be getting more confident and when you do, the puck seems to follow him.
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