Hockey season is well over for Marysville product Carter Bancks, and he isn’t all that happy about it.
If he could have his way, he’d rather be in the middle of a playoff run in the AHL with the Abbostford Heat. Unfortunately, the Heat fell shy of a playoff berth in the Western Conference, settling for a 12th-place finish in the 2013 campaign.
However, with the bitter comes the sweet, as Bancks was called up by his parent NHL club, the Calgary Flames, and made his debut in the show in Nashville against the Predators on April 23rd.
The Heat were heading to Oklahoma City for their final double-header of the season, when Bancks was notified that he had to pack up and join the Flames on their final road trip of the lockout-shortened schedule.
He met up with the NHL club and found out from head coach Bob Hartley after a team meeting and optional skate that not only would he play, but he’d be on the starting lineup.
“Bob Hartley came up to me and said, ‘Carter, just so you know, we’re thrilled to get you in tonight and you’re going to be in the starting lineup,’” recalled Bancks.
“It was a real whirlwind of a day. I don’t remember much of it, I was pretty stressed out, but it was cool when he told me that and it was obviously, as they say, a dream come true.
“…You’re looking around, [seeing] Shea Weber, guys like that out there, and you’re like, ‘Holy, this is the real deal, just don’t score on me first shift. Let me through a shift.’”
Bancks played a total of 12:33, getting just over a minute of special teams work on the penalty kill unit in a 4-3 loss to the Predators.
“I had a ton of fun,” Bancks continued. “The first game, I had a lot of nerves and excitement and didn’t really know how it was going to go—I was just hoping to get through the game and bring some energy.”
He donned the Flames crest again three days later in a contest against the Chicago Blackhawks, recording 16:49 worth of ice time with some more special teams work.
His second appearance in the show gave him all the more confidence that he could compete at the highest level.
“You kind of realize that its still just hockey,” said Bancks. “Yeah, it’s bigger and it’s faster and things happen a little quicker, but at the same time, you’re playing with better guys that make better passes and are always in position.
“It was really fun, getting to do that.”
Though the NHL experience is arguably the highlight of his hockey career, Bancks still wishes things went a little better in Abbotsford after a promising start to the season.
The club had a strong opening half that put them near the top of the AHL, however, some talent flowed back up to Calgary with the end of the lockout, and the team wasn’t able to replicate their earlier success.
“The first half of the year, we were winning games we probably didn’t deserve to,” said Bancks, “and in the second half we were playing a lot of games, but couldn’t manage to get points out of it so it’s disappointing to not make the playoffs there.”
Bancks has been with the Heat for the past three full seasons, where he has been moulded into a two-way centreman who is particularly effective on the penalty kill.
“This last year, I felt like I had a really good year,” said Bancks. “Coach had a lot of confidence in me and I played a shutdown role, killed a lot of penalties, tried to be hard on the other team’s top players, played a lot in a lot of defensive zone face-offs.
“That’s kind of the role I’ve been shaped into and that I take a lot of pride in.”
A few familiar faces to Bancks have joined the Heat, some with a Kootenay Ice connection.
Bancks goes way back with former Ice captain Dustin Sylvester, as both battled for spots on elite U15 and U16 provincial teams, before going head-to-head against each other in the WHL, as the Marysville native got picked up by the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Sylvester, who went undrafted by the NHL, has been with the Heat for the past two years after earning a contract as a free agent in 2011.
Other Ice alumni include former captain Steve McCarthy, who briefly joined the team last season before being lured away by European professional hockey, and Max Reinhart, who made his rookie debut with both the Heat and the Flames.
In fact, regular Heat teammates like Reinhart and T.J. Brodie were already up in the NHL when Bancks got called up to the Flames.
“It made it a lot easier walking in the dressing room and knowing some guys,” he said.
“…That made it easier, having some familiar faces and some guys to joke around with.”
As for now, Bancks is currently soaking up all the free time he can during a brief stay in Kimberley by spending some time with his family and hitting the golf course before the rivers open in the middle of June for some fly fishing. Then, it will be off to Calgary in a few weeks where he will start his off-season training in earnest.