MISSION, B.C. — Andy Stevens has options and with the Campbell River Storm’s season carrying on towards the 2015 Keystone Cup — Western Canada’s Junior B championship — in Cold Lake, Alta., he isn’t prepared to make any decisions just yet.
The 6-foot-2, 208-pound defenceman was a 2013 WHL Bantam Draft selection of the Kootenay Ice. With size and a smooth stride, it’s easy to see why the Ice scouting staff saw fit to use a fifth-round pick (98th overall) on the now 17-year-old native of Campbell River.
“If you didn’t know he was 16, you’d think he was a 20-year-old in our lineup,” said Lee Stone, Storm head coach and general manager. “He’s so strong. Our forwards consistently talk about how strong he is in the corners. He moves his feet. I think he’s going to be an exceptional player wherever he decides to play next year.
“He’s a real smart kid, so they’ve kept the school option there. I think it will come down to where he’s got the best opportunity to develop. This year was good for him. Instead of being a six or seven [defenceman] on a higher-end team, he’s a number-one or -two on our club. It’s really served him well and I think he’s got pro hockey written all over him. I think he’s going to collect a cheque to play the game one day. That’s the talent he has.”
Stone marvelled about Stevens’ drive and ability to think the game, two assets he believes will take his young blueliner to success. Where that success comes is still to be determined.
Having spent all his time in Junior B, with a cup of coffee at the Junior-A level, Stevens remains eligible to pursue the NCAA college hockey route and it’s an opportunity he’s weighing.
The soft-spoken rearguard didn’t attend Kootenay Ice training camp following his draft year after breaking his wrist. He chose to play at home for the 2014-15 season and didn’t attend Kootenay Ice training camp once again, but with plenty of turnover coming to the Ice roster, next season might be the best chance for a young, efficient defenceman like Stevens to crack the lineup and make his mark in major junior — if he wants to go that route.
“It’s definitely an option. They’re a great organization,” Stevens said. “It would be great to play for them.
“Right after they drafted me, they gave me a call and we talked for a while.
“It’s tough [to decide]. You’ve just got to talk to people that know a lot about it and have experience going both routes. You get their input about it.
“I’m just focusing on the season [with the Storm] right now.”
There’s no questioning Stevens can play the game and his presence has played a key part in the success of the Campbell River Storm this season.
As a 16-year-old, he graduated from the Okanagan Hockey Academy to suit up for the Storm, posting two goals and 17 points in 40 regular-season games. In 11 Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoff games with the Storm, Stevens went on to post five assists and followed up with one assist in four games at the 2015 Cyclone Taylor Cup — B.C.’s provincial Junior B championship — in Mission, where his squad claimed its second B.C. title in franchise history with a 6-5 victory over the Kimberley Dynamiters.
On top of his time with the Storm, Stevens earned looks from the Powell River Kings of the BCHL (Junior A). Though he only saw eight games down the road from Campbell River, the youngster still earned himself a taste of Junior-A hockey and that isn’t something many 16-year-olds can lay claim to.
“You’ve got to be faster, stronger,” Stevens said of the taste he had in Junior A. “You’ve got to be able to make plays a little bit faster. It was a great experience.”
Should Stevens decide he wants to pursue the NCAA college hockey route, his most likely destination next season will be in a full-time role with the Powell River Kings as a move to the Western Hockey League nixes his NCAA eligibility.
A velvety-smooth stride is the first thing most people notice about Stevens’ game, but at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, they might be left wanting a little more grit and sandpaper. The physical side of the game is something Stone said they’ve been working on through this campaign.
“He’s smart and he’s physical, but he’s not necessarily in your face,” Stone said. “At 6-foot-2, 205 [pounds], that’s something you’d probably like to see a little more of. But it hasn’t held him back in our league as a 16-year-old and I’d be surprised if it held him back in any other league, too.”
For now, Stevens’ focus remains on finishing out the 2014-15 Junior B campaign — a season that has worn as long as it possibly can with the Storm headed to the Western Canadian Junior B championships April 16 to 19.
“We have a great coaching staff and group of guys,” Stevens said. “We’re on the ice every day. We’re training hard and we’re a good team.”
If Stevens’ and the Storm take to the ice in Cold Lake the way they did in Mission, they might find an opportunity to make history — no Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League team has hoisted the Keystone Cup since its inception in 1983.
The Storm open the 2015 Keystone Cup in a date with the Saskatoon Quakers (Prairie Junior Hockey League champions) April 16 at 11:30 a.m. (MST).