An early exit from the Manitoba U-18 AAA Hockey League combined with the recent COVID-19 pandemic-induced social distancing has forced Colby Joseph to become creative in his workouts as he prepares to make the jump to the B.C. Hockey League and the Victoria Grizzlies next fall.
Living on a farm in Elkhorn, Man., 10 minutes east of the Saskatchewan border, makes things a little easier though.
“I’m lucky I guess, my chores on the farm keep me in shape,” laughed the 17-year-old Joseph, who signed with the Grizzlies this week out of the Yellowhead U-18 Chiefs.
“And I have lots of room on the farm for different workouts so I’m staying in pretty good shape. But hopefully this [social distancing] doesn’t last too much longer.”
Joseph is heading west despite having his services in high demand in his home province. He was selected 12th overall in the 2017 Manitoba Junior Hockey League bantam draft by the Waywayseecappo Wolverines and Waywayseecappo is only about an hour and a half drive from his home. And when Joseph put up 71 points in 48 regular season games this season, good for second in league scoring, the Wolverines and WHL teams such as the Brandon Wheat Kings and Red Deer Rebels came calling.
“I seriously thought about playing for Wayway because they treated me very well since the draft and had me out to a few camps.
“And I went to WHL camps in Red Deer and Brandon, but I want to play Junior A at the highest level so when the Grizzlies and the BCHL called I had to take it. It’s a highly-regarded league that produces a ton of [NHL] stars and [NCAA] scholarships so I’m really excited and can’t wait to get out to Victoria.”
Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon is looking to add some skilled forwards after losing veterans Marty Westhaver and Henri Schreifels to NCAA scholarships. He looks to have found one in the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Joseph, who was named the Manitoba U-18 AAA player of the month for October when he started the season with eight goals and 12 assists.
“Colby is a pure offensive player. Our scouts in Manitoba have him rated as the top eligible forward for his age in the province,” said Didmon.
“We see him coming in as a centre and expect him to make an impact right away. But regardless of how long it takes him to be an impact offensive player, he will be a quality one in this league over the next two or three seasons.”
Joseph said he’s never been to Victoria “although my grandma’s cousin lives there” but after doing some research and talking to some hockey friends, he knew the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“I know the team was young last year but had a lot of [NCAA] committed players and the organization is known to be first-class on and off the ice with some NHL guys having played there so it looks like a great place to play hockey and I can’t wait to get there.”
And he won’t mind the bus rides up and down the Island and around the province as he spent this season travelling from his home in Elkhorn north to Shoal Lake where the Chiefs are based.
“It’s about an hour to Shoal Lake and I would do the drive twice a week for practices and another two times for games if we played at home that weekend,” Joseph said.
“It wasn’t too bad but got kind of lonely at times during the winter if I was by myself.”
The Chiefs had a great regular season, finishing in second place, but their season ended much earlier than Joseph would have liked.
“We got knocked out by Southwest in the first round,” added Joseph, who had three goals in the four playoff games.
“It was pretty disappointing but they were hosting provincials so they were a very good team as well. And sometimes, that’s just the way hockey goes.”
Now, Joseph is hoping his hockey goes from Victoria to the NCAA.
LOOSE PUCKS: The Grizzlies also signed three local players this week. Forward Desmond Arthurs, who turned 17 in February, was signed from the Victoria Cougars of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League where he posted 10 goals and 22 assists in 44 regular season games. Luc Pelletier, another recently-turned 17-year-old forward, is moving up from the Peninsula Panthers where he had 18 goals and 17 assists in 48 regular season games. Also joining the Grizzlies is defenceman Andrew Braun. The 18-year-old blue-liner from Victoria played 26 games for Shawnigan Lake Academy this past season, registering two goals and 12 assists. He also got called up to the Grizzlies for three BCHL games last season where he picked up one goal.