It was a proud day for the Southwest hockey community as five players with ties to the area were selected in the 2018 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft. The Swift Current Kabos Bantam Broncos won a provincial title in 2017 and five players from that team were drafted this year after three were drafted one year earlier.
Swift Current’s Joe Arntsen was the first local off the board when he was drafted in the second round, 35th overall by the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Thursday morning.
The 6’1’’, 177-pound defenseman was second amongst all Saskatchewan Bantam AA Hockey League blueliners with 50 points in 31 games with the Swift Current Kabos Broncos. He added eight points in six playoff games.
“It’s good. It’s close,” said Arntsen after being selected by the Hurricanes. “Just to see your name up there is just relieving as I have just been watching it all morning. It’s a good feeling.”
The dominating defenseman had no idea who would select him today.
“I had no clue. Lethbridge didn’t talk to me at all, so it was a surprise. It was a good one. It’s close, not too far from Swift.”
Arntsen was following the draft from home.
“I’ve been sick and I was up early this morning, so yeah I just stayed home. I would have stayed home even if I was fine to watch it and then go back for the afternoon.”
Arntsen helped the Broncos win a league and provincial title in 2016-17 when he registered 27 points in 30 regular season games and added three points in 10 playoff games.
“It was hard work. I’m a big kid, so that helps, but I had great coaching playing here in Swift Current. Like that helped so much to play the game the right way having Trent [McCleary] teach me how to get there.”
Arntsen also played in six regular season games and one playoff contest with the Midget AAA Legionnaires and has signed with the Legionnaires for next season.
The Kelowna Rockets continued a strong tradition of selecting players from the Swift Current area when they drafted Bantam Broncos captain Hayden Wilm in the fifth round with the 106th overall pick.
“I was really shocked at that moment. I was going up to Saskatoon for an appointment and went out for lunch. I was looking at my phone and had to read it twice to see if was actually my name on it,” he explained.
“I had no idea who I would go to. That really surprised me because they didn’t even contact me before the draft,” said Wilm. “It’s a really good organization. The team is good. I am honoured to play there.”
Wilm finished tied for 16th in league scoring with 54 points in 30 games. The Central Butte native added nine points in six post-season games.
“A lot of hard work and a great coaching staff in Swift Current and a great team in Swift Current that put it all out on the line,” said Wilm of how he got to that point. “That made me a better player over the years.”
Wilm has signed to play with the Saskatoon Midget AAA Blazers next season.
A Swift Current defenseman came off the board with the very next pick when the Portland Winterhawks selected Ryan McCleary.
“I was just overwhelmed kind of,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d go that soon.”
“It seems like a good place to play. Seems like they have just an overall good team,” said McCleary, who had talked to the Winterhawks prior to the draft but did not know that was where he would be headed in the draft.
McCleary was one of the top scoring defensemen in the Saskatchewan Bantam AA Hockey League with 41 points in 31 games. The son of former Swift Current Broncos captain Trent McCleary added four points in six playoff games. “He’s always taught me different things. He has taught me how to shoot and skate and stuff like that. He also just tells me what I am doing right and wrong and coached our teams. We’ve had lots of success too.”
McCleary has been a mainstay on the Bantam Broncos the past two seasons.
“It’s been awesome lately. We’ve had lost of success, but the guys are also just great and all.”
The Lethbridge Hurricanes quickly added a second Swift Current defenseman in Wyatt Wilson with the 116th pick.
“Well I was super excited and obviously honored to be drafted by the Hurricanes, a great organization,” said Wilson. “I was talking to Lethbridge throughout the season, but really anything can happen on draft day.”
The 6’2’’ blueliner had nine points and 23 penalty minutes in 25 games with the Yale Bantam Prep team in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League. The team is based out of Abbotsford, BC.
“When I came out here the one upside I thought it had was you are on the ice every day of the week and you are in the weight room and I thought that helped me progress as a player a lot throughout the season. It is a great level of competition, a lot of high-end guys as you can tell by the number of guys from the CSSHL that went in that draft the first few rounds,” said Wilson, who has committed to play at Yale next season as well.
Wilson now weighs in at 195 pounds.
“I think I need to work on my foot speed. As a bigger guy that is something that every bigger guy needs to work on.”
A second member of the Bantam Broncos was taken by the Kelowna Rockets when they selected goaltender Justin Dueck in the 10th round, 204th overall.
“I was definitely very excited. That just means I have to work harder from here on out. I am very excited that I am getting the opportunity and to take it.”
Dueck said that he received questionnaires from well over half the teams in the league and phone calls from about six teams but never heard from the Rockets at all.
“I have heard a lot about the organization. I think it’s very good, very structured. I think they’ve got a great team, great coaches out there.”
Dueck was in English class and was listening to speeches from his classmates when his mom texted to give him the news. “But I couldn’t say anything until this guy was done saying his speech, so I kind of held my excitement in until he was done and then it kind of went out after he was done.”
The Waldeck product finished the regular season with a 9-5-1 record and a 3.02 goals against average. He was 2-2 in the playoffs with a 2.70 GAA.
Dueck tried out for the Swift Current Legionnaires but said he may spend the season playing for the AA Midget Broncos.
“I definitely can just put a lot more work in in general. Getting drafted doesn’t mean that you are going to make it. You need to work a lot harder than the other guy to make it,” he said.