All eyes on top bantams as Rick Lapointe hockey tournament begins

A lot has changed since the late Rick Lapointe joined home-Island players and future NHLers such as Mel Bridgman, Al Hill and Lorry Gloeckner on the Victoria Cougars teams of the mid-1970s in the Western Hockey League. Islanders such as Geordie Robertson, Bill Jobson, Bob Jansch, Greg Adams and Brad Palmer followed on the Cougars rosters in the WHL throughout the disco decade.

It was easier to protect locally sourced talent in the era before the WHL bantam draft. Now, of course, top bantam players go to the teams that draft them from Victoria to Brandon in the sprawling 22-team WHL. The scouting process involves elite tournaments, such as the Rick Lapointe Memorial Triple-A Bantam Showcase, running today through Sunday at the University of Victoria’s Ian Stewart Complex rink in Gordon Head.

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It is the 46th annual year of the tournament, which is named in honour of the 11-season NHL defenceman and Esquimalt-product Lapointe.

“We will have one, two or three scouts at the rink all weekend,” said Cameron Hope, GM of the WHL’s Victoria Royals, who also plans to attend. Most WHL teams will have scouts at the tournament.

The Triple-A teams competing are from Saanich, Juan de Fuca, host Racquet Club, South Delta and Semiahmoo in the Courtnall Division and Nanaimo, Comox, Surrey, Cloverdale and Seattle in the O’Byrne Division. Action runs all day from 7 a.m. to 9:50 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday, with the medal round Sunday from 7 a.m. through to the gold-medal final at 2:30 p.m.

The Seafair Islanders of Richmond defeated the Camrose Red Wings of Alberta 6-0 in last year’s final.

The one-stop shopping is convenient.

“That’s why tournament formats are so friendly for scouts and GMs. It makes things easier,” said Hope.

“You can buy your coffee at the same concession all weekend and stand there watching all day long.”

Hope noted the Lapointe Showcase is where he and his scouts first saw Racquet Club of Victoria defenceman Nolan Bentham perform. Bentham became the first home-Island player selected by the Royals in the first round of the WHL draft when they took him 13th overall last spring.

“It’s not just the second-year bantams we’re scouting for 2019, but also the first-year bantams that will be put on the radar for the 2020 draft,” added Hope.

Not that there is ever a sure thing. Those famously overlooked in the WHL bantam draft include Jamie Benn of Victoria and Joffrey Lupul, Shea Weber, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Tyler Ennis and Dan Hamhuis.

“This is an inexact science for sure,” said Hope.

“The blue chippers are generally that. But others develop at their own pace.”

Royals head scout Ryan Guenter said he watches about 300 bantam games a season, as does most of the Victoria scouting staff. Guenter will be scouting in Minnesota this weekend while Hope and other Victoria staff scouts will be at the Lapointe Showcase.

“We definitely get out and around to scout the talent,” said Guenter.

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