A fit sometimes feels so perfect that you don’t even have to ask “why?” You just know it’s right. Payton Mount of the Seattle Thunderbirds grew up playing at The Q Centre in the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association. Was there really any other destination for Mount after the Western Hockey League last week granted its players leave to pursue opportunities in Junior A and Junior B ahead of the delayed WHL season opening Jan. 8?
Mount, a touted forward, and Thunderbirds teammate and defenceman Luke Bateman have joined the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League. It is a jersey always intended for Mount. He was selected 19th overall in the first round by the Thunderbirds in the 2017 WHL bantam draft and it was thought he would play for the Grizzlies in a development 16-year-old season before making the jump to Seattle. But that never happened due to various circumstances.
“I would have loved for Payton to be a Grizzly at 16 but we never got the opportunity. But now here he is in a Grizzlies jersey because of these strange times,” said GM and head coach Craig Didmon, who coached Mount at various times in youth hockey.
“I have followed him since [U-11] hockey and believe he is on track to be an NHLer. This is such a fantastic fit. He can help us and we can help him through this situation.”
The 18-year-old Mount had 15 goals and 24 assists for 39 points in 62 games when the 2019-20 WHL season came to an abrupt halt in March due to COVID-19.
“It’s been a long seven months,” said Mount, following his first practice with the Grizzlies on Wednesday.
“Practice and dryland training is good but nothing matches game play. I can’t wait for the puck to drop on Saturday [against the Nanaimo Clippers in BCHL Island Cup pre-season play]. I’m itching to get back into game action. The timing will come back and I’ll get more and more comfortable as the game goes on. It’s awesome and humbling to be playing for a hometown team I grew up watching as a kid, and in a rink I grew up playing in.”
Mount was also a youngster in the stands at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, sitting with dad and season-ticket holder Angus Mount, and cheering on the Victoria Salmon Kings in the pro ECHL. Perhaps that’s why he has had some of his best WHL games at the Memorial Centre against the Victoria Royals.
Mount came up as an all-rounder in View Royal, playing also lacrosse, soccer and baseball. Although excelling in all four sports, hockey was his true passion as success in the Juan de Fuca program led to the Delta Hockey Academy. Mount has had provincial and national representative experience with Team B.C. at the 2017 WHL Cup (formerly Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup) and Team Canada Red at the 2018 World U-17 Hockey Challenge in New Brunswick against the national teams of the U.S., Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. The five-foot-nine, 185-pound winger has not let being overlooked in the 2020 NHL draft deter him. It has only strengthened his resolve.
“It makes me work harder at getting bigger, faster, stronger,” he said.
“I am always looking to get better and to put in the hard work to do that to make the next level.”
Bateman, meanwhile, is a six-foot-six, 18-year-old rearguard who hails from Kamloops. Mount and Bateman are among eight Thunderbirds players who have joined the flood of WHLers moving across to play Junior A. The duo is expected in the lineup when the Grizzlies meet the Clippers on Saturday at The Q Centre. Mount and Bateman will be facing a familiar foe from the WHL U.S. division — 2019 third-round Montreal Canadiens draft-pick Gianni Fairbrother of the Everett Silvertips, a blueliner who already played last weekend for Nanaimo in BCHL games.
“He’s a great player. Seattle and Everett have a tremendous rivalry and we have some terrific battles against him,” said Mount.
Another Silvertips defenceman, Dylan Anderson, is playing for the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Roman Basran and Cole Schewbius, goaltenders for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, have crossed the bridge to the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL.