For the next 12 days, Rylan Ferster is going to become a hockey fan.
Not that the West Kelowna Warriors head coach and general manager isn’t already one now, but the soon to be 45-year-old hockey executive will have a bigger emotional attachment when the Sochi Olympic Games men’s hockey tournament begins today.
The former Victoria Grizzlies head coach will be keeping his eye on one of Canada’s up-and-coming stars, his former player Jamie Benn.
“Absolutely, like everyone I’ll be a fan over this stretch, glued to my television, watching the Olympics,” Ferster said recently, recalling the 2007 Grizzlies team that produced pro players Jamie and brother Jordie Benn (both on the Dallas Stars), Tyler Bozak (Toronto Maple Leafs), Tyson Barrie (Colorado Avalanche), Garry Nunn (playing pro in Italy), Brian Nugent (Las Vegas of ECHL) and Kevin Petovello (ECHL and CHL). “I sent him [Jamie Benn] a text when it was announced that he would be joining the team.
“He was a pretty humble kid that year. He was a 17-year-old rookie, and he remains that way even now,” recalled Ferster, who will not be alone in keeping close tabs on the Saanich minor hockey product, who went on to play Junior B with the Peninsula Panthers and Junior A with the Grizzlies before joining the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.
Current Grizzlies part-owner and scout Donnie Robinson (an assistant coach on the 2007 team), fellow scout Dennis Taylor and team general manager Pete Zubersky will all keep close tabs on the young man in the Canada jersey at the Sochi Olympics.
It was Robinson and Taylor who brought interest in Benn to Ferster. Taylor gives a lot of credit to Benn’s former minor hockey coach Brian Coward for working with Benn, his older brother Jordie, Matt Irwin of the San Jose Sharks and Greg Scott, who played four seasons with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League and is now with Brynas IF Gavie in Sweden.
“He [Jamie Benn] started on the third line and Rylan said after a few games that this kid is too good to be playing here. He put him up with Bozak [who collected his 100th NHL assist this week with the Maple Leafs] and they had such good chemistry with Garry Nunn. They were amazing,” said Robinson, who also helped coach Benn with Pete Zubersky in the Peninsula system.
“Well, it was funny, and I don’t have a problem saying this, but Donnie said to me back then that he [Jamie] was going to be the best player to come off Vancouver Island. Arguably, he is. So that’s the eyes of Don Robinson,” said Ferster.
Ferster watched Benn develop that season on a special team, that was eventually knocked out of the playoffs in six games by a strong Cowichan Valley club, all four losses by one goal.
“Tyson played [in the playoffs] as a 15-year-old. It was a special group,” recalled Ferster. “Obviously, Boz [Bozak] was the ring leader. He could just take the team on his back at times. It was my third year here and I still keep in contact with some of those guys.
“What is amazing is Jordie. He was a good defenceman, but to see where he’s at now is unbelievable. That’s three guys from that team in the NHL, and Barrie, too, makes it four. That’s pretty special,” Ferster added.
“It was obviously a very good line [Benn, Bozak and Nunn]. We had a good team and those guys were a lot of fun to watch and, on a lot of nights, you found yourself being a fan,” said Ferster.
As he will be again these next 12 days.