Austen McKean is a teenager going after what he wants.
One of a number of bright spots on last year’s Terrace Bantam tier 3 team, the Grade 10 hockey forward has packed up and moved to Kamloops to play as a first year on the Thompson Blazers major midget team.
It’s not the first time he’s played in Kamloops. In 2012/2013, he played Bantam tier 1 in the Interior before moving back to Terrace for Grade 9 because he missed home.
But he then realized that he missed the level of hockey he’d experienced during his previous stint, so looped back to live with his mom and stepdad.
The fact that he has family in Kamloops helped make his decision easier, said McKean, noting that his other choice would have been to try out for the Cariboo Cougars in Prince George, but in Kamloops he doesn’t have to billet.
He also benefitted from the fact that his previous coach, Mark Chase, is now coaching the Blazers. Chase encouraged him to try out, and McKean made the team over the summer.
“The tempo is a lot faster than Terrace tier 3,” he said, of his new gig. “You’ve got to make quicker decisions, be skilled, you’re always thinking, you’re always on the balls of your feet. You’ve got to be ready for anything, basically. Mentally and physically you’ve got to be ready. Before the game starts, visualizing. It’s more structured and a lot more serious – it’s more of a business, kind of.”
He said he’s getting a fair amount of ice time for a rookie, and is on the power play and plays a bit of penalty kill.
It’s the beginning of the season, so the team is still figuring things, he said. “How guys do and how they play. It’s not a brand new team but there are new guys … Everybody’s kind of getting comfortable with each other now.”
Playing against well-established Vancouver teams, the Blazers have their work cut out for them.
“We’ve got to be the hardest working team this year, we’ve got to work hard, put the time in, put the effort in and see what happens,” he said.
But McKean is looking forward to the challenge of high-calibre play and how that will help him grow as a player.
“Now I’m down here, and you go to play a couple of Vancouver teams down south and you kind of realize you’re a small fish in a real big pond, but it’s hard work and dedication and day in and day out that’ll get you to where you want to be. You’ve just got to have the mindset.”
His next goal is the WHL and “the major midget league is to help you to whatever your next goal is.”
And it doesn’t hurt that McKean will be in an area where WHL scouts can watch him closely.
While he does miss certain things about Terrace, he knows this is the right decision for the future.
“It gets to a certain point where you’ve got to focus on yourself,” he said. “Obviously I miss my family back home (in Terrace), but I think I’ve also matured, getting older I need to focus on my priorities, and this is what I want to do. I do miss the fishing; my dad is a fishing guide.”