Terrace’s Mason Richey hoists the Harris Cup in March 2021, awarded to the NCAA Northern Collegiate Hockey Association conference champion. It was Marian University’s first Harris Cup win since 2002. (Submitted Photo/Mason Richey)

Terrace’s Mason Richey hoists the Harris Cup in March 2021, awarded to the NCAA Northern Collegiate Hockey Association conference champion. It was Marian University’s first Harris Cup win since 2002. (Submitted Photo/Mason Richey)

Skeena Voices | A hockey journey

Mason Richey’s hockey career has taken him from the Terrace Sportsplex to the United States, but his arrival at the college hockey ranks was far from a foregone conclusion.

In fact, the 20-year-old forward’s hockey journey almost ended twice.

Richey started out playing his minor hockey in Terrace until the age of 15, collecting memories that he still looks back on fondly.

“Living in northern B.C., basically to get any bit of good competition is six hours away to Prince George, and a lot of times, it was even further to the Okanagan,” he said.

“So 14 hours on a bus with 16 to 20 of your closest friends, and there’s a lot of memories that I just couldn’t replace.”

Back in his minor hockey days, those teams would travel for somewhere between five and seven tournaments a year, plus provincials if the team was strong enough, which it usually was.

When he was 15, Richey moved to Prince George to play midget AAA hockey for the Cariboo Cougars. Richey lived with a billet family that had moved east from Terrace only a couple of years prior. He had even played hockey with the billets’ son.

“I just remember my parents dropped me off, and I don’t think anybody was home at that point, my [billet] family was gone, they were camping,” Richey said.

“And then it finally kind of sunk in like, ‘Holy God, it’s kind of weird, I don’t have my family here on a day to day basis.’”

Despite the uncertainty and challenges that come with living away from home for the first time, Richey said that the connection that he already developed with his billet family continued to grow stronger and that he was treated extremely well.

In his second year with the team, Prince George hosted the Telus Cup — Canada’s top midget AAA championship — meaning the Cougars got an automatic spot in the tournament. The Cougars struggled during the cup, placing outside the top four teams, but Richey returned for a third year and served as the captain. He committed to play for the West Kelowna Warriors in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League for the following season.

Things started to go awry during the first day of training camp in Kelowna.

“The coach walks in and says, ‘Yeah, well, I quit,’” Richey said.

The team was under new ownership and according to Richey the owner had fired almost all the team’s staff, save for an athletic trainer and a statistician.

“Our interim head coach was the newly hired assistant coach, who later got fired again, and basically three days before our regular season, we didn’t really have a coach, the league had to step in and actually provide us with a coach.”

Before the season, senior players on the team staged a walk-out, and the team refused to practice for a few days due to the situation. As a rookie, Richey said he just put his head down and followed the lead of the team’s veterans.

“I don’t want to dog on my old team, I had a lot of fun there,” he said.

“It was just a weird circumstance for somebody that hadn’t played junior, and then just show up and your coach quit, it was a bit of a mess.”

Richey’s tenure with the Warriors lasted just over a season. He said his season was “not too bad for a rookie,” however the self-described playmaking forward started struggling to find his game. Around ten games into his second season with the Warriors, Richey made one of the most difficult decisions of his life.

“It was a really tough scenario to walk away, especially from something that I really had felt that I’d loved,” he said.

“The game just kind of got away from being fun and that really upset me, so I felt that at the time that was the right thing to do.”

Richey returned to Terrace, which gave him the perfect opportunity to rediscover his passion for hockey. He joined the River Kings, scoring 10 goals and 19 points in only eight games with the team before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“It was a breath of fresh air just having fun. There were no coaches on your case or telling you that you if you don’t pick it up, they’re going to trade you or cut you or you’re going to sit on the bench or you’re scratched, it was just kind of like go out there and play and have fun. And that’s what happened.”

One day he was working and he received a text message from a number he didn’t recognize. It was the head scout for the Battlefords North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. After a few days of thinking on it, Richey packed his bags and was off to the Land of Living Skies with a second lease on his hockey life.

The league was more physical than in B.C., but Richey said it was a fun experience. Unfortunately, he only got to play three games before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the season and he drove back to Terrace. Being his last year of eligibility for junior hockey, Richey’s future in the game was once again in doubt.

“So it was kind of like ‘ugh, maybe that was my last game, maybe that’s it,’” he said. “It was a weird time for sure.”

It would be his last game of junior hockey, but Richey would get another chance to play, this time south of the border. Two teams messaged him in early December.

“I was like, ‘holy crap, I actually have offers, division three in the U.S.,’ and I was caught off guard, I really didn’t expect that after playing three games of junior again.”

Richey decided to think about it, but Marian University in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin called again on a Monday and said that they wanted him with the team in a week’s time.

“I was like, ‘you know where I’m at right? A bit of a ways away,’” he said.

“Tuesday I decided where I wanted to go, Wednesday the coach called my parents and I said ‘yep, that’s where I want to be.’ Thursday I was enrolled in class, Friday I was in class and Sunday I was on the plane.”

Richey is studying business management and getting the hang of life as a student athlete. He said the game is less physical with more of an emphasis on puck possession and playmaking which suits his style. Richey has hit the ground running in the NCAA, notching 14 points in 18 games and winning the Harris Cup — the team’s first conference title since 2002.

“It was kind of surreal honestly. From basically eight weeks since I’d gotten here, from living in Terrace not really doing much, to playing NCAA, winning a championship,” he said

“I felt good but I didn’t really have any words to describe it honestly, seems just kind of unreal.”

Because he started at Marian University halfway through the year, his goal is to catch up and graduate with his teammates that started in the fall. In terms of hockey, he wants to follow up this year with another successful season and make it with a professional team in the United States or Europe.

“There are guys that go pro from this team, each year there’s quite a few guys that across the league that go pro, so I think probably Sweden, Germany or Switzerland would be nice. But realistically, I’d probably take anywhere.”

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